You Don’t Know What You Know

I’m back from a wonderful meditation retreat at the Arrow River Forest Hermitage near Thunder Bay, Canada. It was my second time there, and it’s hard to imagine a better place to do a retreat. It is lovely, secluded, and very peaceful. Ajahn Punnadhammo is a wise and practical teacher; the stewards were both devoted and understanding, and the other retreatants were devout. Please support their mission!

The main thing I learned, or was at least reminded, is that We (or at least I) Don’t Know What We (I) Know. For example: you might know that fire is hot. But it isn’t until you accidentally step into some ashes you thought were out that you really that fire is real damn hot. I’m struck by this again and again in meditation. Hundreds of times you hear, “Follow the breath.” And dutifully you do it. And then something happens, and you really follow the breath for the first time. It’s amazing. Mind blowing. But when you try to tell people about it, you sound like an idiot. “No, you don’t understand! You just follow the breath.” They shakes their heads and say, “I know, I know.” But you don’t know what you know sometimes.

For me on this retreat the lesson was: don’t have expectations in your meditation. Of course! I’ve heard it a hundred times. But going off to a beautiful place to meditate, it’s hard not to semi-consciously hold onto expectations for all the wonderful meditations you’re going to have. This retreat was hard work for me. I did have some wonderful meditations, but I also had some hard slogs as well. One 3-hour walking meditation session in hiking boots comes to mind. I came back to my kuti covered in ticks and with wicked sore legs.

So please remember, you don’t know what you know. Hold on to even that lesson lightly.


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