I wanted to come back from my meditation retreat and just write about what a meditation retreat is. “What’s there to learn?” my father asked when I told him our practice sessions were interspersed with instruction and talks. “Aren’t you just sitting there?” I wanted to describe just sitting there. Sitting and crying. Sitting and being bored. Sitting and being peaceful. I wanted to describe all the reasons and lack of reasons for the tears, boredom and peace.
I wanted to just write about the high, dry desert and the expansive view from the retreat center porch where dust kicked up from a truck could be seen miles away. I wanted to write about having to be mostly silent for most of the time (and how my roommate and I talked anyway when alone in our room at night). Silent meals had me pausing, as if in prayer, before digging into my carefully made meal. Silent breaks during the day had me staring at the dirt, picking out particular ants to follow along their loopy, determined paths. Silence made me want more silence at the same time that it made me wonder what I was if not a listener.
I wanted to come back from my retreat and describe how, for a few glowy, floaty moments, the retreat high predicted by my friend turned out to be true. It was so true that I even chatted with the guy in the plane seat next to me on my way home. My usual “leave me alone” attitude had been exchanged for something soft and open.
Back in my routine, the glow started to fade under the weight of traffic and scheduling conflicts and grocery shopping. Then, a few days later, at a meeting of my local sangha, I was told about some conflicts and accusations against the head teacher of this lineage. Conversations that had been happening in private forums were now, at least partly, public and online.
All my remaining glow evaporated instantly.
“I guess I joined a cult,” I told my friend the next day. I was joking, but I was also kind of sad. I’m so not a joiner that I really wanted the group I finally joined to be beyond reproach.
They aren’t. Of course, they aren’t.
One of the names of this particular lineage is the “Mishap Lineage.” This group, like all groups, is made of flawed individuals that make flawed choices. Or maybe they’re the right choices that result in flawed responses. Maybe it’s all exactly right and there is no problem. Maybe we’re all fools.
In the weeks that have followed, I’ve been encouraged by my instructors to discuss my concerns and I’ve been given some reassurances that there are both ongoing discussions and ongoing changes being made.* My wariness hasn’t been erased, but I’m willing to linger in a place of wait and see.
As I thought about all this, I remembered that the pictures of the lineage founders I’d expected to find at the retreat center were largely absent. There were a few of the Tibetan man in a corner of the residence hall. I only saw one of the white haired white man in an office whose door was accidentally open. I was pleased and relieved. Maybe their photos had never been predominate and that was my own flawed assumption. Or maybe their photos had been shuffled into less predominate places as a sign that things can and will change.
All I can do now is practice in the worker-like way I’ve been instructed. So here I am. I sit in the morning, usually for shorter amounts of time than I hope. Sometimes I practice in silence. Sometimes I listen to the talks and guided meditations of the white haired white man and know that he is a flawed human who has hurt people. There’s part of me that thinks that after all his decades of study and practice he should know better and be better. There is part of me that knows this is naive. This practice doesn’t bestow superhuman armor. It’s just life, all messy, hard and beautiful.
* The morning after I posted this, I received a mass email that contained an open letter by the accusers and a detailed response from the organization detailing the changes they’re implementing. The past can’t be changed and there will never be a solution that satisfies everyone, but this seems (from my extremely limited view on the situation) a move in the right direction.