Monday, August 22, 2011

Squirrel Nutkin Chews On The Dharma

Here's a photo of Squirrel Nutkin chewing on the Dharma.  You remember that Beatrix Potter tale from your childhood, don't you? No?  Well let me refresh your memory.  It goes like this.  The heroine goes on retreat to a lovely idyllic spot, almost as nice as heaven, in a rural, pastoral sort of way.

Silently she is stalked by her own mind.  Fur starts to fly and she finds she is more than a little nutty.  But enter stage right, the bright fairy of mindfulness.  She leads said heroine over to a majestic tree with wide branches and deep roots that holds all the nuttiness with great love and kindness.  When the sun shines, squirrel nutkin notices that these hard little nuts are all transparent.  At this point our heroine treks over to the Dharma kitchen to chew on some delicious lemon poppyseed cake with strawberry-blueberry sauce, savouring it deeply and realizing it is not all that different from the nuts on the tree.

So that is the fairy tale version of my 7 day silent retreat.  If you prefer a description in more worldy terms I can say that this comment by Charlotte Joko Beck is very apt: "With unfailing kindness, your life always presents what you need to learn.  Whether you stay home or work in an office or whatever, the next teacher is going to pop right up."

I met some demons along the way, predictable, familiar demons, the ones that have to do with fear and personal health.  My retreat demons took me on a ferry ride to see my doctor and naturopath.  There were twists and turns in a little drama that had someone suggesting I might have shingles on my eye which needed medical attention.  My Dharma journey veered right out of the retreat grounds proving the path is everywhere and anywhere.  In the end I got to stare fear in the eye (no foolish pun intended).  I didn't have shingles and got to see the folly of so much worry and fear.  I learned a bit of steadiness and finally got how much nightmares need staring in the eye.  Hmm, maybe this eye thing was on to something??

We had the wonderful Dharma guidance of Gil Fronsdal who was filled with gentleness and humour and the ability to transmit the Dharma in a precise and steady way.  He had some great memorable lines and stories.  When I shed some tears he said he knew a woman who cried for 7 days on a retreat.  I also loved this line in reference to our need for acceptance, an issue I met along the way:  "They'll criticize you when you don't talk enough, they'll criticize you when you talk too much and they'll criticize you when you talk just the right amount." - The Buddha

He invited us, one morning, to look at the underlying attitude we have to life, the one that hovers just below the surface, the one we hardly notice.  As I sat there in stillness I could see my attitude of fear, of resistance, of holding back.  It was enough to make you weep (which I did).  This was a 2 kleenex box retreat!.

In an evening Dharma talk he told a longish story about Japanese soldiers in the Philipines who stayed in the forest long after the war was over.  When they were discovered, high Japanese officials were sent in to go tell them the war was over and thank them for their service.  Just before they boarded the boat home, they were told the war had been over for 25 years.  Gil suggested we do the same for our fears, our anxieties, our habitual tendencies that no longer serve us well.

The retreat offered detailed instruction on mindfulness and concentration practice and lots of time to practice it in the company of other dedicated practitioners.  It was a wonderful opportunity to meet demons, chew on  things, see through other things and sink deep into the spiritual being who is having this human experience.


  1. "But enter stage right, the bright fairy of mindfulness. She leads said heroine over to a majestic tree with wide branches and deep roots that holds all the nuttiness with great love and kindness."

    But you didn't cut the tree down, right?! You need it to hold the nuttiness! ;-))

    I'm so pleased that you shared some of your retreat experience with us, Carole. Having never been to one, my mind assumed that it would be all perfection and total mindfulness every moment of the day and night. But... wherever you go, there you are.

  2. Carole ~ Such wonderful insights! And I love how you have creatively written about your retreat experience - which ultimately reflects our life experience in a "nut shell" :) As you say - the path is everywhere...

    I actually love your provocative statement that "the Dharma is not all that different from the nuts on the tree." Everything is Dharma. Everything is transparent when seen through the eyes of the Heroine (the Beingness that is living this experience).

    I love the metaphor too that life, our experience, is just a story - a fairy tale. And finally the Heroine wakes up and becomes aware of her story and who is really living her life experience! Emaho! Christine

  3. Hazel - yes, sometimes people think retreats are all about sweetness and light and I suppose they can be. Each one is different. You never really know what to expect. Experiencing our own difficulties allows us to have compassion for the humanness of others. There was many a tear shed in that meditation hall and I think it had something to do with the skill of our leader who was the catalyst. He opened the door for us to experience the tenderness of our own hearts and the parts of ourselves that are difficult to look at.

    Mystic - It is true and this is what I love, the Dharma is everywhere. It isn't about being able to sit as still as a pole but being able to open to our own life as we live it, to be kind and honest.

    And as usual you find more than I intended! You are right, our life is a lot of story and the helpful part is to wake up to that.

  4. Your blog posts are always so inspiring and rewarding to read. I love the Buddha quote! . . "They're criticize . . ." I read this JUST when I needed it.
    When things like this happen (synchronicitous moments), I realize more and more how the Universe is always speaking to me. I'm so grateful when I'm available to let it in. Thank you.

  5. I so loved what you said in your comment back to me, that I had to come back in: "It isn't about being able to sit still as a pole, but being able to open to our own life as we live it..." I am learning that big time this week! The Heroine here is waking up to the "story." :) And yes, "Stillness" isn't about being still... :) Love it! :)

  6. Thanks for bringing us along on the journey. I like the concept of kindness and gratitude to our demons (once they are identified) for the service they performed, no longer needed, and then gently sending them on their way. They'll be back, of course ... :)

  7. David- eek, I'm changing my address!

  8. Sounds like a retreat full of many journeys. glad your eye problem was not shingles. you are lucky you can cry i think, for i rarely cry. what a lovely gift to give yourself, this retreat. i imagine it will reverberate through your life for many months.

  9. Jan - Yes I loved this commentary on "acceptance" by the Buddha. And several people at the retreat commented on how the right Dharma talk came at the right time. The one on joy and tranquility was perfect for me. And how Gil's commentary brought the right things out for me.

    suki- I hadn't thought of crying as a gift. Thanks for showing me this side of it. And your right about it's reverberating effects, I think.

    Mystic- go Heroine, go!

  10. Really missed reading your posts. I saw this one on my feeder (pun!) when at Chaplaincy training and just the title was enough to get me through the nuttiness. Deep bow to you, squirrel nutkin and all the other beasties of the Forest.

  11. _/\_

    A gentle bow I send in your direction. I bend at the waist to all of your kindness, your humor, your compassion for the path strewn with 'Hungry Ghosts' and most of all I bow to your charmed nuttiness...this is a most wonderful post.

  12. Genju - yes 2 nuts we are dancing around the same tree!

    Iona - a bow in return. Such a compliment "charmed nuttiness"! I love it. following that crazy path wherever it takes me!

  13. I feed 'my' squirrels every morning-- they come up to the door begging-- so your picture is wonderful.. then I read your post and I can really relate because I am trying to push away my own demons and worries with meditation - and more kindness in my life.