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Personal ‘retreat’: second reflection – settling & questioning

I wrote a post yesterday about arriving here at the Krishnamurti Study Centre.  Now it's early on the second morning – how was the first full day?  It was fine.  I wrote, thought, read, went on a two-hour walk (boots repeatedly clogging with the Hampshire clay), practised yoga, meditated, and talked a bit (at mealtimes).  I can feel myself settling, my mind ‘changing’, still a bit ‘uncertain’ of this big shift in my environment & activities.  It seems like I’m thinking more clearly and about bigger issues.

And I feel good in this building.  The Study Centre was designed by the architect Keith Critchlow.  When I was at university in the late 60’s & early 70’s, I was particular friends with two Richards - who were both architectural students.  In our last year at Cambridge, we (and various girlfriends) shared a cottage together.  One of the Richards went on to study with Keith Critchlow at the Architectural Association.  When I was here in the rather wonderful Study Centre sitting area yesterday, I noticed a small booklet about the Centre building.  It felt appropriate and heart-warming, that the long, intelligent, deeply informed article had been written by ‘the other Richard’ back in the 80’s shortly after it was built.

How was yesterday … and how are my three intentions … to spend some time with a different balance of ‘being & doing’, to explore ‘awareness’ more, and to get a perspective on how my life is going?  Well I’m just wading into this ten day retreat.  I love the way I’m left to fend for myself here … the ‘staff/helpers’ are really unintrusive.  This Study Centre exists particularly as a resource for those wanting to explore Krishnamurti’s teachings.  The library is full of his books … mostly collected talks … and there are many audio and videotapes available.  The fifteen participants on the theme weekend, some of whom I chat with at meals, are here discussing the question “Is it possible to live without conditioning?”  It’s kind of the Krishnamurti version of a weekend meditation retreat. 

My memory is that it was my sister who introduced me to Krishnamurti’s writings while I was still at school.  I think he was particularly well-known in the 60’s & 70’s, although by then he had already been teaching for many years.  His personal story is an extraordinary one and, of course, it colours what he taught and how he taught it.  So much of his message is about awareness … about the possibility, the necessity even, of ‘waking up’, of acting more freely from our typical ‘psychologically asleep’ conditioned state.  Yesterday I spent some time looking again at what he wrote.  Although his teaching has influenced me over the years, it’s a long time since I looked at it with any thoroughness. 

I was interested to note that although I am still moved and, I think, helped by what he has to say … I also disagree a good deal with many of his comments & his style of presentation.  His talks often start quite ‘seductively’ with the request that he and the listener should question together as friends.  It isn’t long though before K is making breathtakingly sweeping remarks as if they are statements of fact, when they are typically ‘hypotheses’ or possibilities sitting on very little underlying evidence.  I guess as a medical doctor and psychotherapist … who keeps very up to date with emerging research on psychological suffering, healthy lifestyle, mechanisms of change, positive psychology, flourishing, and how we tease out scientific truth … I’m in a rather different position as a listener & reader than I was as schoolboy & medical student all those years ago.

But Krishnamurti continues to be a wonderfully original explorer & teacher about awareness.  Although I disagree with him in his dismissal of gradual, step-by-step progress towards greater psychological (and spiritual) health … I am very respectful of his emphasis on sudden, ‘right now’ waking up to clarity & connection.  Last night, walking down empty country lanes in the deepening twilight, the Eagles song “Desperado kept running through my head.  Although the line “Your prison is walking in this world all alone” in the original song, referred to lack of loving relationships, there’s a deep sense in which it could refer just as well to the isolation of our individual egos.  K is inspiring with his position that when we ‘wake up’ and relate directly to a tree, to another, to this world … then ‘the observer and the observed are one’.

Here’s a passage from the book Choiceless Awareness (pp.46/47): “Experience nearly always forms a hardened center in the mind, as the self … Most of us are seeking experience.  We may be tired of the worldly experiences of fame, notoriety, wealth, sex, and so on, but we all want greater, wider experience of some kind, especially those of us who are attempting to reach a so-called spiritual state.  Being tired of worldly things, we want a more extensive, a wider, deeper experience; and to arrive at such an experience, we suppress, we control, we dominate ourselves, hoping thereby to achieve a full realization of God, or what you will.  We think the pursuit of experience is the right way of life in order attain greater vision, and I question whether that is so.  Does this search for experience, which is really a demand for greater, fuller sensation, lead to reality?  Or, is it a factor which cripples the mind?

In our search for sensation, which we call experience, we do various things, do we not?  We practise so-called spiritual disciplines: we control, suppress, put ourselves through various forms of religious exercise, all in order to arrive at greater experience.  Some of us have actually done all this, while others only play with the idea.  But through it all, the fundamental desire is for greater sensation – to have the sensation of pleasure extended, made high and permanent, as opposed to the suffering , the dullness, the routine and loneliness of our daily lives.  So, the mind is ever seeking experience, and that experience hardens into a center, and from this center we act.  We live and have our being in this center, in this accumulated, hardened experience of the past.  And, is it possible to live without forming this center of experience and sensation?  Because it seems to me that life will then have a significance quite different from that which we now give it.”

And the third post is on "Quietening down ... and do we need time to change?"

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