Now that I live within a three-hour drive to the Monastery, I’ve been there several times for retreats, Practice Weekends, Precepts Renewal. And while I’ve been offered guidance that I’m welcome to come as a Visiting Monk at other times, there’s been subtle resistance to going for less than 48 hours. Recently, upon returning from a trip to see family, I was once again guided to consider coming up for Thursday night group. Given my schedule, it would have to be less than a 20-hour trip, and yet, my heart leapt at the chance and I said “Yes!”
Immediately conditioning planned the trip for me. I needed to be there for the sit and snack, to help in the kitchen -- in essence, I needed to pay my dues for intruding for such a short time, and then I could be rewarded with group. (It is only in the writing of this that I’m seeing the entire process.) Life, however, had different plans. When I finally left home, everything would have to go like clockwork for me to make the sit. The bargaining started: “Well, if I take this highway, I can shave off time;” “If I don’t stop for a break, I can do it;” and “Even if I’m late, I can sit outside.” Then I hit traffic. It stopped the voices all together, and at that point I jumped into “maybe, maybe not in time for sit,” like a child jumps into her father’s arms.
Halfway there, it was clear I would not make the sit, so conditioning started in with snack. I needed to make it by 6:00 pm. The badgering of showing up late to eat, the bargains being made of how I could “make it up” (to whom is not clear) for being late or missing it altogether. It was all about “me” and how I was wrong, bad, inept. Luckily, it dropped in to communicate that I might miss snack, and then I picked up my recorder and started listening. When I turned onto French Gulch Road, it dropped in, snack starts at 6:10! I had plenty of time to make it. Indeed, as I rounded the last corner and saw the dining hall lights winking through the trees, my heart lit up with deep gratitude.
In group that evening, I shared my process of getting to the Monastery. The facilitator reflected and then offered, “…and if you didn’t make it, a monk could have put food aside for you when you did get here.” The very statement shook conditioning to the core. Someone would offer that for me? You mean I wasn’t going to be yelled at, or punished, or ignored, or shamed for missing the sit, for missing snack? Instead, I was going to be nourished, considered, cared for?
I’ve heard it said so many times, the Monastery holds our hearts until we can hold our own. And now it makes perfect sense. The Monastery is teaching me how to hold my heart. It is showing me exactly what love looks like -- not ego accommodation. To quote an ancient text, love is patient, kind, nonjudgmental, cares for all, is egoless and not about a “me.” Love has no expectations of payback, doesn’t need to change how things are, and has no need of recognition. Love is honest, faithful, never dies and is always there no matter what. It doesn’t need a person or an event to be present. It just is.
Which brings me to the last wondrous insight from this event. The monks preparing snack did it because it’s in the schedule for that time, and because it was time for their nourishment. Any monk arriving late would have been offered food lovingly and with great care set aside for them, and yet, it felt like it was done just for me.