I recently attended a meditation retreat at Joshua Tree Retreat Center in California and I had several profound experiences. I’d like to share one of those with you. It was a totally ordinary experience but, because we had been meditating for a few days prior, what was ordinary transformed into the extraordinary.
After a few long days of meditation, we gathered one afternoon in the meditation hall with the teacher as part of the daily routine. We practiced together for a while. Then at the bell, the teacher told us we were going outside to take a walk in silence. I was game!
The teacher led the walk at a moderate pace. At one point I thought, “Oh, he’s going too fast. I wish he would slow down.” But then I simply picked up my pace a bit and that thought faded away. I remembered one of the instructions was simply to watch the mind and thoughts as they arise. But don’t give the thoughts much energy. Just observe and let them go.
It was a most beautiful afternoon with the light of the late afternoon sun shining brilliantly down on the beautiful Southeastern California desert landscape of sparse vegetation, hills, valleys, distant mountains, and high clouds. The temperature was perfect – warm but not hot. We followed the teacher to a fountain area with pools of water shaded by trees. The air was fresh, filled with the faint fragrance of pine. The sound of the fountain and flowing water was soothing for the mind. We stood near the water for a few minutes until everyone arrived. A cool mist rising off the pond felt refreshing and rejuvenating on the skin. We paused here for a minute or two and just took in the sights, sounds, and smells.
Then in silence we proceeded to walk to a beautiful vista that opened out onto a valley.Everyone followed the teacher not knowing where we were going nor how long we would be on the walk. But due to the depth of our practice, I didn’t care. I was in a state of wonder and curiosity. Then, suddenly, I became overwhelmed with joy. Sensations of bliss welled up within me and I was happy for no reason. My mind went back in time to pleasant childhood memories of going outside at school recess and taking field trips in nature. As I looked out onto the vista, my eyes filled with tears. I was seeing the beauty of nature. No, I was feeling the beauty of nature. No, I was experiencing the beauty of nature. I became aware of the gift to be alive and the miracle of life itself.
While gazing and savoring the view, I simultaneously realized that I was happy because there were no distractions. The space between the landscape and what I was seeing was clear. No thoughts, no expectations, no doubts or worries, no thoughts of, “Will I be safe? How much longer will we be out here? Shouldn’t we be meditating? I’m hungry.” None of that was present. I was just there, being there, seeing the landscape purely, wholly, as it was. I melted into the scenery. I disappeared into it. I became one with it.
This kind of melting is described in the Tantric texts as Samarasya – an experience of open-eyed Samadhi. Samadhi, unified consciousness, is the eighth limb of yoga described by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras and refers to the state of being absorbed within. I’m certain most everyone has experienced this state at one time or another without even knowing it was happening. It’s an experience of introversion. Samarasya is similar except instead of becoming absorbed within, you become absorbed with the object on the outside. It’s a state of deep inner tranquility with open eyes. When you look out from this state of consciousness, you become one with whatever it is you see because there is nothing in the way. You are seeing clearly. In that moment on the ridge, I was one with the desert, hills, mountains, and sky. I remember feeling a huge smile come across my face.
My joy must have been obvious because, just in that moment, a friend standing near me caught my eye and he was smiling too. Even though we had only met the day before, he put his arm lovingly on my shoulder. I put my arm around his waist and gave him a hug. We were all in silence so I couldn’t really call out what I was experiencing. But I sensed that my friend was on the same wavelength as I was. Our gazes caught each other and, in that moment, I felt a kind of union with him. It was as though I had known him all my life. Suddenly, even more joy rose up within me. It was like a fountain of joy streaming infinitely within. We silently walked back to the program room and finished the session.
I was struck with how simple that experience was yet how profound. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a landscape as beautiful as that before. I’ve never been that present in nature with my eyes wide open. The experience itself was amazing. But what was even more amazing was to be able to share that with another human being. Something grows inside when joy is shared.
One of the benefits of meditation that is commonly overlooked is that it makes you more sensitive to your surroundings. It makes you more aware of what’s already there but you can’t see it because you are asleep to it. When the mind is filled with burdens, expectations, worries, fears, and doubts, we’re not really seeing what’s in front of us in its purest form. We’re seeing what’s in the space between our eyes and the landscape itself. But when that space is purified and swept clean through meditation or other purifying practices, we begin to see clearly. That kind of seeing gives rise to spontaneous joy, insight, and a feeling of connection with others. This is the state of being and living from your heart. I’m so grateful for this experience. Sometimes the most simple is the most profound.
The value of the practice for our lives is to experience Samarasya (“open-eyed samadhi” or living from the heart) in all of our endeavors; to be able to see through our doubts, fears, and projections to be present with the true reality in front of us. It’s about being able to perceive each other and this world, with all of its infinite diversity, from the heart with a sense of beauty, awe, and joy.