By Dekyi Kerstetter

Dekyi has been an anagarika trainee at the Abbey since November 2019.

This winter retreat is the first time in my life that I have had the precious opportunity to do a long retreat. Having so much time to focus on studying, reflecting and meditating on the Dharma has been wonderfully insightful and nourishing.

A New Spin on Suffering

One theme I am reflecting on came from the book The Wisdom of Imperfection by Rob Preece. In the book, he defines duhkha as being “contracted space,” while its opposite term “suhkha” is “open spaciousness,” a quality of bliss. Preece says, “The degree to which we actually suffer is directly related to the degree to which we are contracting or locking. In our contracted state we lose relationship to the innate space that is present in reality. If we could open to it, our reality is in fact spacious, fluid and essentially free.”

I can observe the truth of this on a daily basis. When my mind is open and relaxed, I feel happy. When my mind feels threatened in any sort of perceived or real way, it constricts, tightens and closes up in defense. When I pay attention to my body, I can feel how quickly my heart or stomach lock up when I feel the slightest bit of fear.

The Tightness of Fear

This fear is driven by a deep sense of self-preservation. As soon as that contraction happens, the idea of a solid “I” gets locked in place. If the fear and contraction are in response to someone else and I interact from a place of tightness, this can cause the other person to also constrict and tighten. When there are two objects with rigid edges and they come into contact with each other, friction happens and it hurts. Whereas if I come from a place of open spaciousness, there is no edge to bump into and create friction or resistance.

This reaction of fear, constriction and self-preservation is so deeply rooted it feels like an ancient instinct. But it is refreshing to start seeing that it doesn’t always have to be that way. Lately I have been really enjoying looking at the sky and watching the clouds and reflecting on the nature of the mind.

The Spacious Nature of Mind

Like the sky, the mind is spacious, expansive and free. The clouds that can seem so ominous and threatening are really just condensed moisture and not solid at all. Watching them shift and change constantly is a good reminder of what is happening all the time in my mind and in the world around me.

So, may we keep remembering our spacious, fluid nature of the mind, even in the face of fear in whatever subtle or direct way it may appear. And by doing this over and over, we can start to dissolve our clouds of ignorance, freeing us to live in a much more open way. Then we can continue becoming courageous bodhisattvas for the benefit of all sentient beings.

Read more 2020 winter retreat reflections here.