― Thich Nhat Hạnh
Here it comes, ready or not.
sultry days of August and early September have given way to the first polar jet streams of the season. In the past week or so, the
thermometer has dropped into the upper 40's a couple of times overnight.
Whispering through the trees in patches of red, orange, and yellow, the first hints of autumn have appeared here in Western Massachusetts.
Here it comes, ready or not.
To Every Thing There is a Season
As they often do as autumn announces its presence, my thoughts have
turned to those times in my life that I have committed to Intensive Practice in the fall. In Buddhism, like many of the world's
religions (Ramadan in Islam. The High Holy Days in Judaism. Lent in
Christianity, etc.), there are extended periods of time each year that
people move beyond "business as usual" to make a special commitment to their spiritual practice.
In Buddhism, the tradition of the Rain's Retreat (Vassa or Ango) goes back to the time of the Buddha. Traditionally beginning the first day of the waning moon of the eighth lunar month (June/July), it lasted about three months, the period of time that the monsoon season in India made travel difficult. During that time the monks, who generally were homeless wanderers, would gather in one place to hear the Buddha's teachings and engage in intensive meditation practice.
To this day, this period of meditative retreat is widespread in Theravadan Buddhism. It is observed in various forms in Tibetan Buddhism and Zen as well. Here in the US, where hot summer weather is more problematic than monsoons, the rain's retreat seems to have evolved into periods of intensive practice that occur in the Fall and/or the Spring.
At Insight Meditation Society in Barre, MA, the Rain's Retreat has become The Three Month Course, a meditation intensive that begins in September each year. In 1991, I joined that retreat for the entire month of October.
At Insight Meditation Society, this commitment meant existing in silence
for that 30 days, and meditating in one form or the other from 5:30 a.m. until 10:00
p.m. each day. Except for listening to an evening dharma talk, sometimes receiving a few words of instruction during a period of work, and engaging in a brief interview with a teacher every few days, the entire world was wordless. Even
reading was discouraged. An
inveterate bookworm, this made me squirm. Yet, this proved to be a powerful
support for dissipating the momentum of habitual thought.
My mind got really quiet. Really...really....quiet.
Being speechless for weeks and weeks left me speechless. In Silence, a deep sense of awe emerged. To a mind freed from the fetters of thought, Reality asserts itself. The answer really was blowing in the wind. The wind whispering through the trees said all there was to say.
And A Time for Every Purpose
At this stage of the journey, I don't sense a need to head for the hills for an extended period of time. Yet, I think one patch of orange leaves had something to say to me as I walked through the neighborhood a few mornings ago. Nestled in a silent choir of green maple leaves, it was whispering:
As summer wanes and the world rolls toward the Autumnal Equinox, I feel the emergence of a commitment to intensify
my personal practice once again.
I'm not sure exactly what this will look like yet. But, these days, "not knowing" is particularly sweet.
It makes me shut up -- and pay even closer attention to the Silence!