Inquiry: They are barbarians

They are barbarians. (Noisy retreat groups!)

  1. True?
    No. Although it feels that way sometimes. I can find stories that tells me it is true. I can find others who agree.
  2. Sure?
    No. Just an opinion.
  3. What happens when I believe that thought?
    • I get frustrated. Attention goes to the sounds of heavy breathing, swallowing, fidgeting, unwrapping cough drops and candy, unscrewing water bottle lids and drinking, and so on.
    • I repeat to myself all the noisy and distracting things people in this and past retreats do.
      • At the previous retreat, I sat next to a woman who when awake was a noisy breather, fidgeted, unwrapped and ate hard candy (!), and drank water from her water bottle, and when asleep – which was most of the time – breathed even heavier bordering on snoring.
      • At this one, I was again sitting next to a noisy breather, forcing his breath through constricted nostrils, and one who was unwrapping cough drops and drinking water. (He was excused since he had a cold.)
      • Sometimes, there is an epidermic of swallowing going on, someone in the room swallowing heavily every two or three seconds. Other times, it may be down to just a few every minute.
    • I compare them with my old Zen group, where people were quiet. And if they were not, the teachers would shout “sit still!” or “wake up!”.
    • I complain to myself about the teachers of this group. Why can’t they give the basic instructions and guidelines that all my Zen teachers did?
      • Quiet breathing. If you breathe noisily, it is too forced.
      • Sit still. If there is an itch, just let it itch. Notice what the mind does with it. Only move if there is genuine danger of injury.
      • Reduce swallowing. Place your tongue against the back of the upper teeth, create a small suction between the tongue and the roof of the mouth and collect saliva there. (When I do that, I can easily sit for a period without having to swallow.)
    • I complain to myself that it is difficult to do my practice under these conditions. Even if I know I am distracting myself, I find it difficult to work with it and get it to the point where I can do my practice even approximately as focused as when I am on my own. “They are ruining my practice.”
    • I make my own views right and their wrong. I mentally find an ally in the Zen tradition and my old Zen teachers. Then, I realize that they too would see that I am just caught up in my own hangups. They wouldn’t be on my side in that way.
    • I get distracted. Attention goes to all the sounds and my stories about it and reactions to it. I experience discomfort. I get jittery. I wish I was somewhere else. I consider going home.
    • I exaggerate the situation in my mind. My thoughts compile all the worst examples from four retreats, and combine it into one grotesque image. Whenever someone swallows, all of that comes up so something innocent becomes something much worse in my own mind.
    • I take it as a personal insult. I take it personally.
    • (Of course, this is an exaggeration of what happens, although the elements are there sometimes. Here I am exploring it in an amplified way.)
  4. Who would I be without it?
    • Without beliefs about the sounds, attention wouldn’t get drawn into it. Attention would be free to go somewhere else. I would be peaceful. Focused. Working on the practice. (As I do in retreats with quiet groups or on my own.)
    • I see the thought of them being barbarians, and the whole situation, as quite comical. I see the comedy in getting caught up in that story. I also see how it is just the preference of this one personality and not personal at all – it has infinite causes. And there is no need to take it seriously or be identified with it.
  5. Turnarounds.
    • They are not barbarians.
      • No. They are just sitting there. Hardly barbarians.
      • They follow the norms of that particular group, and those norms are quite different from those of Zen retreats. They are doing what they are told, and not doing anything they are not told to do.
      • Also, they help me see my own hangups, even if it is uncomfortable.
    • I am a barbarian.
      • Yes, when I go into these stories about them, I am the barbarian.
      • I make them into slobs and barbarians in my own mind, which is crude and barbarian itself.
      • I think I am right and they are wrong, which also is pretty crude and barbarian.

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