peace isn’t luck for six years stand facing a silent wall
until the you of your face melts like a candle
- Zen Master Ikkyu, Crow with No Mouth
Spring break I spent in silence at a monastery in the woods of Rhode Island. Up at 4:30, bows, chanting, formal meals, work period, lots of walking and sitting meditation, off to bed at 9:45–every day. For some, this would be unimaginably difficult, and even for me at first it was a little tedious. Even five years ago, if you told me I would be spending a week doing this, I would have laughed in your face.
But it was a great place to hang out for a week. How often do we close our mouths and let the world speak for a change? Those of you who know me know that you often can’t shut me up–but I put down my own voice for a week and let the wind blow and the birds sing their songs, and felt the presence of the universe come alive. The boring brown floor in front of me, well, became interesting. And the walks outside were opportunities for awe and wonder. If you do something like that for a whole week you get a chance to really sink into the rhythm of it.
What was truly interesting though, was coming off of the retreat on Saturday. I suppose it was because it was St. Patrick’s Day and I didn’t realize it. But there were all the riff-raff coming into Boston on the commuter train from Providence, and it was cramped and crowded, and they were loud and obnoxious. I’m ordinarily uncomfortable with that kind of crowd, but this was particularly overwhelming–try spending a week in the woods, even if you’re not on silence, and you’ll know what I mean. I had become very sensitive to everything from spaciousness (or lack thereof) to noise. I didn’t feel right; I didn’t know what to do.
A teacher I met with over the weekend reassured me: “This sensitivity,” she said, “that’s okay. You think you’re overwhelmed–try a 100-day solo retreat! That really makes you sensitive to everything. But that’s not a bad thing. In fact, that’s wonderful that you feel that way.” Because we see how insensitive we usually are in our daily lives. In our constant movement to the next thing, the next class, the next meal, the next cup of coffee, the next text message and group of friends, we lose this meticulous, moment-to-moment mind. And this increased sensitivity allows us to be more compassionate towards others.
Monday morning I was still in culture shock, and as I walked from Cambridge over the BU bridge onto campus, already there were many people and I felt very shy. I had work to do but all I wanted to do was sit in Marsh Chapel. I needed a quiet, cool, expansive space to decompress. But then, as I began to meet people I knew and loved, that shyness was transformed into very clear, bright energy. The moment was unfolding just as it should — and isn’t that enough?
Sinking into this world is perhaps one of the most rewarding experiences you can have. Let your curiosity take hold and win out over the busyness, the point-A-to-point-B-style thinking. Be curious about the world. Life is happening all around you; when are you going to show up and pay attention?
About the Author (Author Profile)Michael Bruffee (CAS '12) is a 5th-year senior studying Cultural Anthropology, though he is interested in anything and everything. He is currently pursuing a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. He is somewhat fluent in French, can scrape by in Spanish and American Sign Language, and often makes a mockery of the English language. Mike is particularly interested in U.S. History, Buddhist philosophy, and connecting with others in the common pursuit of knowledge and wisdom. Mike is from Brooklyn, NY and is currently a resident at the Cambridge Zen Center in Central Square. Follow him on twitter (@mikebruffee).
Sites That Link to this Post
- Welcome Admitted Students 2016!Culture Shock | Culture Shock | April 6, 2012
- Tales from the Summit | Culture Shock | May 1, 2012
- Some advice from the tea leaves | Culture Shock | May 9, 2012
- Sink Into This World | Providence Zen Center | June 6, 2012