For a few years in my life, there was what I came to call “instant karma”. I would go into judgment about someone, fueling a sense of being right and a separate I, and then, days, hours or often minutes later, I would find myself in the same position as the one I had judged, sometimes in a quite literal way. It was a great way of learning, and very humbling.
It is always true that I am what I see in others, but it is not always so easy to notice. It may happen in a quite different form and area of life. So when it happens in a more literal way, it is harder to overlook. (That more literal form can be experienced as another flavor of synchronicity.)
Over the last year or so, I have had some stories going about people making noise during sitting practice, especially since I am used to the relative quietness of the Zen zendo, and have been going to more adveita type groups who tend to be less strict in their meditation instructions. (In Zen, sitting still and not making a sound is a pretty standard guideline, and the monitor will often remind folks if they don’t follow it, sometimes by a loud shout.)
So yesterday, when I finally did a mini sesshin (Zen retreat), I found myself as the by far most noisy one. I have brewed on a germ for several days, and the main symptom is a persistent and unstoppable dry cough. I coughed and swallowed incessantly, and on top of it all had a very growly stomach at times. (The swallowing and talkative stomach from sucking on Fisherman’s Friends to alleviate the couching.)
I found myself in the exact role I had judged others for being in, and was helpless in changing it. All I could do was to find some peace with it, and allow it to work on me. To wear down old habits, soften me, to wear down and expand my identity as someone who is quiet and follows strict zendo guidelines. To feel it, take it in.
It also helped me take another look at noisy folks in the zendo. For seasoned practitioners, it either doesn’t matter or is actually a benefit. Any sound just become part of what is happening, and I also find that sharp sounds, such as a cough, helps me stay alert and awake. And if it is annoying, that too becomes part of the practice. It is just part of what is arising.
Or we can take a closer look at it. What happens when there is an experience of being annoyed? What happens if I resist the experience, try to push it away? What happens if I fully allow it, as it is? And what is annoyance? Where do I find it? Do I find it outside of a sensation and a story about that sensation? If annoyance is part of the content of experience, coming and going as any other content of experience, what it is that does not come and go? And what am I?
But for beginners, it may be different. For them, it may just be distracting.