I used to think that I knew how to sit quietly with myself. Now I know how wrong that assumption was. Continual distractions would arrive via my senses, an itch here or a sound there, and bounce me off the path.
Part of it was that I could not sit still for long enough, but now I have learnt that one can sit on a chair, kneel or sit cross-legged, walk and even lie down to meditate. This, however, is not an easy ticket to enlightenment. One has to be comfortable in the posture and that takes time.
Also, I have never thought of myself as a religious person, but spiritual? Well not in a quasi-religious sense and certainly not in an airy-fairy crystals and incense way either – although I do happen to be fond of crystals of a genuine geological persuasion and most incense apart from patchouli. So when asked on the Sanghaseva silent retreat registration form what my spiritual practice consisted of I was temporarily stumped. Eventually I wrote that I had always felt very connected to nature, especially water, with the sea being the pinnacle of that attraction.
To digress only a little: when I moved to Cornwall at age 17 and experienced surfing in the Atlantic Ocean I discovered what was to become one of the major passions of my life. Now 35-years after that first ‘coup de foudre’ I am more sanguine about the actual surfing side of it but still experience the act of entering the water and heading out to sea as a very visceral emotion. I feel many things which pertain to the spiritual. I feel bound to something enormous and eternal, beautiful and powerful, mysterious and sometimes frightening. Nowadays I am perfectly content to sit out there and observe it all going on around me. The clouds in the sky, the wind and current patterns on the surface of the water, the coastline and the never ending play as those pulses of energy, created by a storm far out to sea, finally spend their force in one last spectacular finale. I could watch waves all day and no sight in nature is more beautiful to me than a perfectly shaped wave peeling and breaking: the play of light and colour, the roar of water hitting water. To put a little zen into the equation it is necessary to mention one other aspect of surfing that pertains to the transcendent. For devotees of many years practice there comes a day when a rubicon is crossed. It is the acme of all surfers and the first time will truly herald a deeper awareness and understanding of their water-borne journey. This moment arrives when that curtain of water pitches up and over the surfer encapsulating him in a cylinder of liquid energy. It is a perfect, timeless moment. One in which nothing else matters, just a total involvement in the now. It is priceless and fleeting and hugely addictive. Once you have experienced this fluid moment you are drawn back time and time again. The tube, the barrel, whatever you want to call it becomes your goal and time within its embrace is as sacred to the surfer as any amount of time spent kneeling in a church or chanting in a temple.
So during my meditation practice I often take myself out there, to what some have called ‘the church of the open sky’, and watch those mighty rollers crash and roar upon the shore. It might not be enlightenment, but it works for me most of the time.
As a final note on the subject I have always enjoyed these lines from William Wordsworth’s ‘Intimations of Immortality’.
Hence in a season of calm weather
Though inland far we be
Our souls have sight of that immortal sea
Which brought us hither
Can in a moment travel thither
And see the children sport upon the shore
And hear the mighty waters rolling evermore