Portland, Maine is a harbor setting. From my window, I look out on the boats coming in, guided by the many lighthouses. I have been contemplating the idea of a safe harbor lately. To me it means calm water, shelter from the storms, a place of refuge welcoming weary travelers. I imagine the light houses on stormy nights guiding boats to safety.
I meditate so that I can be the safe harbor for myself and others, the lighthouses guiding beings to safety. To do so, I see two necessary qualities; that the harbor is reliably safe and that the light is steady. First, the quality of the harbor need to be investigated, no sharks below the surface, no mines, no volcanoes with the potential to erupt. In terms of mind, that could be described as equanimity, serene, filled with compassion, radiating kindness, wise and fearless. This is a harbor safe to enter and receptive to all comers.
The purpose of retreat is to create this safe harbor within and expand the range of the lighthouse. I find solitude and silence the conditions that help me explore my mental ocean. Daily life has enough distractions to keep the sharks at bay, the mines tethered below the surface. Continuous solitude and attention brings them to the surface. It has taken years to be relaxed with the investigation. Like all meditators, I would rather find the Dalai Lama and Mother Theresa when I look within. Fortunately, Buddhism warns us that every human mind has all the varieties of thought. It is hard to accept without judging or shaming. These judgments just add to our inner aggression. Finally convinced that judging has no productive results, I now enter retreat with more gentleness. I choose curiosity and relax. I can learn how mines work and defuse them.
These menacing sharks and mines are but ephemeral transient moments. I notice they arise as long as I hold on to views of “my” experience. How interesting it is to see the force of views, to be dragging me from peace over and over again. When I relax, and examine their nature, they dissolve like snowflakes in a pond. Stillness, the calm waters, unstirred by views remins. Spaciousness expands.
It is also important that the light be steady, not intermittent or dull or affected by outer conditions. When our minds are clear, the lighthouse simply shines. As our taming of emotions increases, we become unshakable. Whatever arises is seen to be adventitious and impermanent. Our focus is on the needs of the moment, assuaging the suffering of beings not our own reactivity. How can the Dharma help right now, how can we apply what we have learned and experienced in our journey to clarity to this moment? Can we use this moment to wake up? One of the gifts of Dharma maturity is to finally begin to understand the illusory quality of the human condition. This warring time caused by minds overcome by enmity is no different than thousands of years ago. It feels imperative to us to act, just as it did to those living long ago. We must act but the actions can lead to liberation, or nothing changes and the cycles of suffering just continue. Using this moment to wake up is counterintuitive to many lifetime of habitual action but this step changes everything. Then it truly is wisdom shining as the guide to a fearless heart.