The Music of Meditation by Lucy Draper-Clarke

Beyond Violence Retreat with Donal Creedon: December 2022

Donal is a conductor, his long fingers like ten batons, keeping us all in time, on time, and attuned. During the many hours of daily practice, he holds us in unison – walk, sit, walk – the boundary that invites inner freedom. His teaching is exquisite, drawing on different scores: from the three schools of Buddhist philosophy to personal letters, to poetry and verse. It is dharma music for our ears.

While seeking to move Beyond Violence, we first share stories of confusion, of conflict, and war. What draws humans towards violence? Why is it so fascinating? Is it inevitable? Family conflicts are the juiciest, from the ancient yet current story of Milarepa to disagreement and death in rural Ireland, to Covid grief, aggression, and reconciliation. Sometimes a member of our meditating orchestra needs to play a solo, and Donal allows those moments of individual expression within the afternoon discussions. These personal reflections highlight the experiences of the group. Stories rooted in fear, jealousy, greed, and the expanding spirals of harm that ensue unless clarity and compassion can be re-established. Peace and violence seem to tag team.

During sitting sessions, my mind plays banal music or little repeating lyrics – earworms – that go round and round and round. I find myself chanting the praises to Tara in her wrathful form, “Knitting the brow on your lotus-like features, you slay every foe without an exception” or in her most compassionate, “Your scope of activity is giving, exertion, fortitude, peace, tolerance, meditation.” My mind entertains me while my body longs to move.

All the while, I chant the refrain: “Find your path, within the path. Find your part within the harmony. Be yourself, be no self, within the collective.”

On Saturdays, we are set free – walks to the waterfall, swimming in the Eye and hikes through the Langkloof. One group, meeting a python on their way, brought the Buddhist story of snake and rope, into glorious technicolour. It really was a snake, not just the conditioned fears of the mind. Some responded with the wise instinct of self-preservation, others with carefree curiosity, all beyond violence.

Something was working, not just with our minds, but our hearts too. Each person finding their own way to bring delight to the group: beautiful flowers adorned the hall, delicious meals kept up our strength, and the different gong ringers explored their unique tunes that called us back to practice.

Nothing magical happens for me in meditation. There is no bliss. Yet it seems to open a doorway. In the midst of daily life, I see phenomena passing through that door; ideas emerge and life flows with less effort and more humour. This draws me back to Donal’s retreats year after year. Perhaps you too would like to sing the song of meditation with such a skilful conductor?

 

Octagone by Max Pentreath

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s good to ring the gong,

that hangs from the Octagon:

feeling the world vibrate,

until the sound is gone, gone, gone.

But the Octagon remains,

resting gently between its two ponds.

Upon which retreatants gaze wistfully,

and occasionally jump in and wallow!

While the forwards facing fish just look on,

they trust their pond will still be here, 

long after the Octagon has gone.

Gone, gone beyond,

Just like the sound of the gong.