Bright and Clear by Karen Shoji Robbie

We are currently gathering contributions from sangha members of the theme of showing up with our insecurities. Here Karen shares her experience of facing hers on a Chan retreat.

In between branches
the moon
bright and clear
I look up

I arrive in the dark in the mud. A bright head torch and a friendly voice greet me. This is my first Silent Illumination Retreat. I expect silence but what else? I’m shown to the gallery and choose a bed. A 5am start followed by outdoor exercises. The week has began and I’ve decided I want to leave. I’m reacting and it feels painful already. Sitting and silence have started. I’m used to sitting, I’ve been practising for many years but this is a different sangha. I’ve never tried Chan meditation before.

I go beyond my reaction and decide to stay. From 5 to 10 at night we sit and sit and practise. It’s a full day with work, some rest periods to sleep or shower, of course to eat and walk, alone. There are so many things that stand out about this week. The talks and private interviews were especially important for me. I came to the retreat carrying a rock. Something felt heavy inside. I was tired and tangled up emotionally. My thoughts were haunting me. This rock was getting bigger. It was time to be here and here I was.

Within a few days I found out this rock, dark place was a defense mechanism. It was a default position and I had been acting from it since I was about 4. I’m now 51. This revelation was a horrendous shock. As a child when someone or something hurt me I found a way to withdraw. As an adult I continued and caused more and more pain, for example, saying hurtful things (sometimes unconsciously) to my partner, family or friends which made them withdraw. I withdrew, they withdrew and I wondered why I felt so bad.

I investigated withdrawing as it arose in my sitting. I cried. I explored. It was unravelling. There were waves of understanding, releasing old patterns and habits. This was hard work but the more I looked the more I seemed to let go. The guidance from the teacher and teaching were supporting me. It was safe to be here. Someone was listening and skillfully showing me a part of myself that wasn’t working anymore. It was no longer appropriate. Time to move on. Seeing how strongly my self interest can manifest and hurt others is something I want to change. Now I know what it is, can I stop it? I now have some insight. I’ve experienced letting it go on the cushion. Can I let it go in my everyday life? This is my challenge. I feel a sense of joy that it may be possible.

these bones move
thoughts passing like clouds
as my mind rests