6. Back to normality.

sarnath

Back to normality.

Leaving retreat and settling back into the swing of things was very destabilising. I had very little time in England and was on a plane back to Los Angeles almost straight away. Burgs had invited me to join a five-month meditation retreat that he was holding, but I had shied away from the idea. And so it was that two days after saying my first words for a week I found myself sat in a vegetarian café in Los Angeles, trying to explain to my extremely confused girlfriend everything that had happened. One of the very first pieces of advice that you are given upon leaving retreat is to not speak about your experiences on retreat with someone who has never been on one. Meditation and the wisdom that comes with it is something that needs to be experienced, not learned. In this respect it is not like Christianity or any of the Abrahamic religions. It is something that must be seen to be believed. Faith plays its part: you have to believe that, if you sit down cross legged for three hours a day, eventually insight will develop and you will begin to truly see. Without this faith you would not do it. But you do not claim to know these truths until you have seen them to be true for yourself, through your own efforts in meditation. You refine your mind, making it more and more subtle, develop your concentration until it is penetrating, and then set that concentration and mindfulness to the task of removing the smoke screen of your mind. Some of the Buddha’s last words were about the importance of scepticism. He told his students to not believe anything that he or anyone else had ever told them. They had to see them for themselves.

But, of course, to the excited young yogi who had just had his life flipped round it was very difficult to contain this newfound faith, even if it was not yet knowledge. So I sat with my girlfriend, telling her that everything that she thought that she knew was nonsense, that she had chi, that there were Devas and Brahmas and that meditation was the only way to liberate herself from the cycle of Samsara. I then told my friends, and even told some strangers. And what a mess I made. I realised why it is that this information should never be preached. Because that is all that it is: information.

Faith is a funny thing because it takes only a very short hop until it becomes doctrine, and a doctrine based upon opinion. We identify so very much with our opinions that we are unable to see them for what they are: ideas, not truth and completely conditioned. When you have a principle and stand by it with everything that you are, if someone comes along and questions that opinion the common reaction is to become angry to some extent. That extent depends upon how much we identify with that opinion: how much of our ‘self’ is invested in it.

We believe that our opinion is completely correct and wonder how the other person can be so moronic, blind or outright bad to disagree with the truth. It is the same with religious doctrine. We believe so very much in the faith that we have mistaken to be knowledge. When someone disagrees with that faith, we get angry. We believe that we are angry because this person is a heretic and is offending our God and denying the truth. We are the champions of that God or truth and so are doing its work in being angry. But if we look a little bit closer we see that, in fact, we are not angry in the defence of any higher power or knowledge. We are angry because we feel like our integrity is being questioned. Our pride is hurt. “How dare this person not agree with me?” It has nothing to do with the other person disagreeing with a God or a truth, and everything to do with that person disagreeing with us. It is the ultimate arrogance.

This is what was happening with me. I had some knowledge based upon events that I had actively seen: I had felt chi. I had felt the effects of yoga, I had had some extraordinary experiences where my teacher did things that, until then I knew to be impossible. I felt the peace that came with meditation. Everything else was just faith and opinion. And when I tried to relay this opinion to others, telling them that it was truth, it made people very angry, which in turn made me angry.

So the next few months were defined by my frustrations and the frustration that this was causing to other people. I still had extreme anger issues, getting in monumental arguments with my girlfriend and other friends about all manner of issues, and very soon after the retreat finished I completely lost my ability to concentrate in my sits.

I had made the great mistake of believing mediation to be a quick fix, and a skill that I had mastered. I had not seen it to be the lifetime pursuit that it truly is.

But my legs were still better, and I had known the peace that sits behind all things, even if I had temporarily lost sight of it. But this is a peace that you can never forget. My legs momentarily relapsed on occasion, and, when I saw my teacher again upon my return to England for Christmas he was disappointed to see that I had managed to allow my system to shut down again. However it only took two days of meditating with him again to have them reopen, and my legs again went back to normal.

I had also become a considerably better actor. Although there was, and still is, much to let go of, in that one week I had managed to let go of so much of my superficial ego that I had overcome a major obstacle in my acting ability: I was finally able to forget about the audience and to truly be in the moment with the other actor.

It was not until five months later that I finally left Los Angeles. When I say left, what I really should say is fled, for my life.

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