Friday, May 7, 2010


My dad recently returned from a Buddhist retreat with Jack Kornfield and was moved to send me Kornfield's book, The Wise Heart. I cracked it open to the middle for a core sample and found something I rarely see, an account of someone's experience of meditation. This is tricky, subtle territory and even experienced buddhists I've met at times don't really see the purpose in meditation beyond focusing the mind. But in meditation things GO ON, things few people even have words for, so I'm a little awestruck with this passage:
Her first two weeks were filled with the usual ups and downs of body and memory release, the gradual settling down. When her mind became more silent, the boundaries of her sense of self began to evaporate. Her consciousness opened. She would look at an oak tree and feel her arms as the branches. She would breathe and the room breathed too. As she became ever more carefully attentive, an almost atomic level of perception was revealed to her. Each sound, each step, each sight broke apart like a pointillist painting. Over the weeks, her senses became a river of thousands of vibrating points of light. At first this was alarming, but with trust she let go into the changing river. One day both her self and the universe dissolved, dropping away into luminous emptiness. Later a tentative sense of self reappeared and she floated between form and emptiness for some days. She described it as "sitting like a Buddha," experiencing a joyful release, the sweet fruit of years of practice. p.87
It gets better. Kornfield recounts how, when she returned to the real world, this woman experienced what psychologists would call a spontaneous psychic integration and what a shaman would call a soul retrieval. All her life she had tried to be the son her father had hoped for, but finally, after dissolving, she came back together as the woman she was never allowed to be, reborn to her formerly marginalized femininity at the age of 48. "Like a newborn."

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