There are some experiences not captured in words. So I hope you are not expecting a report of what an intensive silent meditation retreat is like. I realize now I only had a vague concept of what mindfulness meant and it's more expansive than anything I could have conceived of. Going in, I also didn't know that there is essentially no difference between cultivating a clear mind and cultivating an open heart; they go hand in hand.
One of the thoughts that captured my mind coming back into the 'real' world yesterday was how to reconcile the spiritual life as my highest priority with my "worldly life", including the workplace and business.
On the drive home, I drove to my PO Box in Mountain View. I decided to stop for a bite to eat and then wandered into a bookstore on my walk down Castro Street. This book captured my eye and I read the back cover:
A rare female Buddhist master, Dipa Ma chose home, work, and family over the ascetic seclusion in a temple or monastery, and taught meditation and mindfulness amidst everyday busyness in her simple apartment in the heart of Calcutta.
I read the book in one sitting last night. There are probably thousands of books purporting claiming to help us integrate spirituality and life. But Jesus, Buddha, and the Daila Lama didn't necessarily have to contend with ironing, cooking, paying bills, and raising kids on their path to enlightenment.
And the other books - well, let's be honest, they're not a heck of a lot of examples of fully awakened role models. Sure that sounds like a lofty goal for ordinary folks (yes, I know the paradox of striving for enlightenment). But after reading the book, Dipa Ma: The Life and Legacy of a Buddhist Master by Amy Schmidt, I firmly (and finally) believe for myself that it is close at hand for anyone. Myself included. Yup, even in this lifetime.
Dipa Ma was a living example of how to live in this world, how practice and the mundane activities of our day-to-day existence can be made one. - Dipa Ma, by Amy Schmidt
She taught folks from bankers to widows in her own neighborhood how to reach the first stage of enlightenment within their everyday lives. Not only neighbors, but ordained monks and spiritual teachers throughout the world sought her guidance as a teacher. Her first formal student was a widow, Malati Barua, trying to raise six children alone. She instructed Malati to breastfeed her infant with complete presence of mind, for the duration of each nursing period. Malati attained the first stage of enlightenment without ever leaving home. Dipa Ma insisted and exemplified, "You cannot separate meditation from life."
A neighborhood woman Sudipti Barua explained to Dipa Ma, "I have so many concerns with my mother and my son, and I also must run a family and a large bakery business. It is not possible for me to do this vipassana [meditation]." Dipa Ma asked her to devote five minutes a day to meditation. Sudipti persisted, "I know I cannot spare five minutes. It is impossible." Eventually she not only spared five minutes, she said she found time and energy she did not know she possessed.
Western students that have been touched by Dipa Ma recollect:
For me to be a woman householder, and to see her as a woman householder, I immediately felt, "If she can do this, I can do it, too." She is like a lighthouse...a light I have oriented to when I have needed the courage to continue to walk the path. - Michele McDonald
She encouraged me to live what I was teaching. The quality of her presence was like that in the Hasadic tales, where somebody askd, "Why did you go to see this rabbi? Did you go to hear him give a great lecture on the Torah, or see how he worked with his students?" And the person said, "No, I went to see how he tied his shoes." Dipa Ma didn't want people to come and live in India forever or be monks or join an ashram. She said, "Live your life. Do the dishes. Do the laundry. Take your kids to kindergarten. Raise your children or your grandchildren. Take care of the community in which you live. Make all that your path, and follow your path with heart." - Jack Kornfield, founder of Spirit Rock Meditation Center (where I went on my 8-day retreat), author of The Path with Heart and After the Ecstasy, The Laundry
If you are committed to a spiritual path, I cannot recommend Dipa Ma: The Life and Legacy of a Buddhist Master strongly enough.