Retreat Report #3 (RR3) - Poetry and Insight: Verses from my Retreat


This is the third installment of my "retreat report" series, detailing some of the more profound experiences that I had during my recent April 2020 two week meditation retreat. The first two retreat reports can be found here and here

This retreat report is different, as it doesn't detail experiences that I had while sitting. Instead, it features several "poems" that I felt compelled to write during the course of the retreat and in the days after its conclusion. Two clarifications are in order here. First, what I mean when I say that I was "compelled" to write these poems is that both the inspiration for them and the actual process of putting pen to paper felt effortless and not truly mine. Instead, it felt as if the present moment was conspiring in favor of the writing of these lines with little input from "me". Second, I don't think that these writings really qualify as poems. The style of writing is more prose than poetry, but for whatever reason I find no better way of describing these lines than "poetry". Third, I haven't written poems or prose since high school. It's never been my thing. So I was quite surprised when the urge to write these lines took hold of me. Without further ado, on to the "poems"!


White Porcelain Bowl

Everything seems to perfect right now...just as it is. 
The little bird perched atop the branch of a tree.
The lotion  perfectly positioned on the table,
The folded piece of paper next to it. 
And the bowl. 
The beautiful white porcelain bowl that softly reflects the sun's warm light.
The bird is gone now. As too is this moment. 
So perfect because so ephemeral.
These words writing themselves as if by an act of grace. 
And everything now seems to be in its proper place.
As if God himself had arranged all the objects so that someone could delight in them. 
Just as they are. 
If only for this one fleeting moment.
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I wrote "White Porcelain Bowl" on day 9 of the retreat after my long 1 hr and 40 minute early morning sit. I was looking out the window while having breakfast. As I looked out, I noticed not only the birds and the natural landscape, but also the items on the table. The piece of paper where I jotted down some notes. The lotion for my dry and chapped hands. And the white porcelain bowl where the cereal used to be. The moment appeared ordinary at first glance, but upon closer inspection it appeared quite extraordinary. Each object so perfect because of its fragility and insubstantiality. Each experience arising and passing away so quickly that the slightest inattention would lead to missing the moment and all of its accompanying perfection. With this, a sense of indescribable beauty arose and I started weeping. This poem was the result.

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I am not Enlightened

I am not enlightened, but I do have moments of enlightenment. 
I just have to pay attention so I don't miss them. 
The smell of coffee in the morning...
The warmth of the car heater on a cold day...
The crackling sounds of the winter fire...
The innocent smile of a child...
A loving embrace...
Freedom and clarity can dawn in any and all of these moments.
Not in the distant future when whatever eternal bliss that I so painstakingly seek is reached, 
but in this very moment...
Because clarity can only dawn here and now, not in some other place or some other time.
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I wrote "I am not Enlightened" on day 13 of the 14 day retreat. It attempts to convey the tension between the desire to wake up and the brute fact that if waking up is ever going to take place, it needs to take place in the here and now. More specifically, the poem speaks to the fact that the desire to wake up reveals the underlying belief that enlightenment isn't already here in the present moment. But if not here and now, when and where is awakening to be found? The question seemed especially pressing given that the only thing we ever experience is the present moment. 

As I pondered this question, what came up for me is that waking up is not experiencing an extraordinary display of fireworks and peak experiences, but rather realizing that the present moment is all that one needs to be fulfilled, complete, and awake. Just as it is. The cloudy sky that seems about to burst in tears of rain. The mighty sun poking its head through the clouds. That's what we've been waiting for. Just this. Not some otherworldly blissed-out state where one is disconnected from the actual happenings of this one beautiful unfolding that we call life.  


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The Kitchen Island

If you look at the kitchen island and just see a counter, a base and the objects it holds,
You are not paying close enough attention.
If you look carefully, you will find that the whole universe is held within it. 
The trees are in its wood, and so are the clouds, the rain, and the sun...
Asteroids and other space rocks, perhaps even the tail of a comet, are embedded within the stone that tops the wood.
The lemons, mangoes and bananas in the fruit basked contain the soil, minerals, and essence of this sweet earth.
Even the plastic containers hold within them the gases and substances from whence this whole world came into being billions of years ago.
But that is not all. The kitchen island also contains the carpenter who cut its wood...
The stonemason who worked on the top...
And even the sweat of the construction crew who carried all the pieces into the kitchen
So that someday, someone, would be able to see the whole universe in their work.
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I wrote "The Kitchen Island" about one week after the end of the retreat. It is heavily influenced by Thich Nhat Hanh's beautiful reflections on "Interbeing". Like "White Porcelain Bowl", this poem was written while having breakfast after my long early morning sit. Instead of staring out the window, I was staring at my kitchen island and the objects held within it. The fruit basket with the mangoes and bananas. And the plastic containers holding all sorts of things. I was then overcome by a deep sense of appreciation and beauty. These objects, and the kitchen island itself, which seemed so ordinary just minutes before, now seemed bursting with beauty and wholeness. While the placement of the objects on the counter-top appeared random just a short while back, they now seemed to be perfectly positioned, as if arranged by museum curators to highlight the artistic beauty hidden behind the superficial ordinariness of the items. 

The perfection of the moment was so overwhelming that I started weeping. It seemed like everything had a story and was part of a greater, more perfect whole. The wood wouldn't be here without trees, rain and sun. The fruits revealed the soil that allowed them to grow. The people who made it possible for me to enjoy my kitchen island were actually seen as being part of experience itself. Nothing excluded. Everything belonging. The whole world held within it. And as the experience allowed me to merge with this kitchen island, I could sense myself making contact with the whole of this mysteriously unfolding universe, if only for this one brief, fleeting moment.

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Mucho metta to all and may your practice continue to blossom and mature! 

Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing these beautiful prose poems, observations, and explanations. I really enjoyed reading them!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, TBS! Really glad that you enjoyed them. Mucho metta, my friend!

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