India: Beginner's Mind

Just home from traveling halfway around the world for a couple weeks of meditation retreat. Since there are wonderful retreat centers right here in California – Spirit Rock, Big Bear, others – why go spend weeks in the heat of Southern India, in an austere ashram accompanied by clouds of mosquitoes, swarms of ants and assorted insects, peacocks wailing and monkeys ready to grab any piece of fruit you may have?

This was a pilgrimage. A journey to Tiruvannamalai where the great sage Ramana Maharshi lived in a cave on the holy mountain Arunachala for 17 years (until his mother came to live with him and he found roomier lodging ☺ ). My lifelong friend Gavin “Saucha” Harrison loved Ramana. I went to sit with Saucha’s beloved teacher, Devaji, as a bow of respect for my dear friend who died suddenly in October, even though my connection to Ramana never went very far beyond having that portrait with his soft, luminous eyes glowing on my altar years ago.

When I finally arrived at Sudananda ashram after the many long hours of travel, I wasn’t sure exactly what I was doing there. What I discovered, after a few days of meditating in the confusion of sitting with a different group, in a different tradition, was how much I enjoyed being a beginner again. I liked the uncertainty of being plunged into a strange new context, truly not knowing what to expect. Faced with new challenges, mindful of the tendency to fall into familiar patterns, I was eager to stay open, to be wide awake.

Suzuki Roshi famously said the goal of practice is to keep our “beginners mind.” Not the goal of having any particular meditative experience but the ability to be receptive and present wherever we are. This is the genuine gift of our practice. With loving awareness, we can see the startling mystery of life, of a pear, a hummingbird, the vulnerable eyes of those around us. We can have a fresh innocence of spirit, an open-hearted longing to learn. I wish this spirit for you today and every day.


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