At a recent retreat, Kamala Masters, our teacher, would ask us after a meditation period to report on what we were experiencing. What were we aware of, and even more important, what was the attitude in the mind towards our experience?
Meditation can be difficult. As they say in AA, our minds can be like a dangerous neighborhood that we do not want to enter alone. We can actually feel tormented, especially at the beginning when we are just getting to know our minds and how to work skillfully with them.
One woman reported that she felt almost tortured by her thoughts. She found herself wanting to leave, yet she stayed, and even came back for a second day, when these kinds of thoughts persisted. But she also reported that she discovered a kind of strength she never knew she had; it seemed clear she would continue to practice.
Kamala responded by telling her that she was developing many of the paramis, perfections of the heart, qualities of enlightened beings. She mentioned some, and in looking through the list, I can see them all manifesting. There was renunciation, a turning away from ordinary pleasures we use to self-soothe; patience; energy; determination; truthfulness (what courage to make that report!); wisdom; generosity in her willingness to share with the group; morality; lovingkindness to herself; and in the end, a kind of equanimity.
How wonderful to notice that even when we struggle with difficult states, other positive qualities are being nurtured if we bring an attitude of curiosity and willingness to our practice.
Photo: Kamala Masters in 2003, when I first met her