It’s not rare, as I mentioned, for pain to be a great teacher. This retreat was no different, and again the lessons learned had been taught in zendos over the years. In my very first retreat, I was introduced to pain that was bright and brilliant. I could see into my own experience of being a body with bodily sensations, at times painful, pleasant, mysterious and very, very normal. Pain played huge roles over the years, learning to build equanimity by staying with burning knees and sweat inducing, full-body back pain. Waiting for and wanting the bell to ring is a well known state of mind for probably just about anyone who does long retreats. It’s not easy, but you’ll end up seeing that even the struggles with pain are actually in your mind.
“Pain x Equinimity = Spiritual Purification” is something I learned from Shinzen Young on retreat. There are many variations to it, as well: “Pain x Resistance = Suffering” is one. Life brings pain – that’s the First Noble Truth. If you can’t drop the pain, you have to drop the resistance.
For me, the experience of sitting with strong and bright sensations has very often paid off with a great wave of concentrated energy. A strong period of sitting can come the sit after a really painful sit – one where I stayed steady, stayed still and stayed calm, but stayed very focused!! How could you not be focused on the supernova in your leg, after all? After a little stretch, or a walking period, and a return to the cushion, one might feel more at ease, without the strong pain but the mind remains very very focused, and surprisingly nonjudgmental. The opening up of the meditator to the pain itself has brought about a mind that isn’t so quick to react. In that way, steadier. More willing to receive, and less busy with thinking! Hey, that sounds like the mind quieting down, doesn’t it? Dropping the resistance. Focus on pain has brought equanimity to the mind. This is how meditation unfolds. Sometimes mysteriously, but as sure as falling off a log.