During this past retreat, my groups was on dish washing duty - making sure that the dish washing area was set up so that retreatants could wash their dishes after eating. There were four tables set up for this, each one with four buckets of water - one warm and soapy and three for progressive rinsing. Since it was spread over a large area of the grounds, the hose from the main building was not able to reach the fourth table.
On one particular day there was a gap in the schedule between the end of the Dharma talk and walking meditation. While waiting for walking meditation to begin, I noticed that a fellow working meditator was beginning to fill the washing buckets at Table 1. I gladly went over to help and, knowing that the hose didn't reach Table 4, brought those empty buckets over to be filled. With so much sitting and being out of my daily exercise routine, I was looking forward to moving some muscles by carrying the full buckets of water back to Table 4. And I wasn't concerned that the water would get cool while we did walking meditation before lunch since the dish washing area was in full sun and it had been a consistent sunny, 90+ hot and humid for days.
I was so happy waiting for the buckets to be filled, standing and watching my breath and feeling the not-yet-blistering sun. While standing, a Sister came over and began rearranging the extra empty buckets I had brought over from Table 4. When I told her what I was doing, she looked at me and told me that it was OK and to put them back. I reassured her it was no problem for me to bring the full buckets over to Table 4 and that I was just helping out before walking meditation. She again requested, with the sweet insistence that only a monastic can, to bring the empty buckets to Table 4 and that "we will move full buckets from Table 3 and, in that way, will conserve our energy".
I felt like I was hit with a sharp dart... pang... deflated.
Even though her words were encouraging and I knew she was just being thoughtful in looking out for my welfare, my inner child was deeply touched. I felt taken aback, not quite reprimanded, but hurt in a very soft and tender place.
After returning the empty buckets to Table 4 and with the Sister's encouragement, I quietly walked over to where walking meditation was starting. Tears began to well in my eyes and my throat was so closed that I couldn't join in singing the walking gatha songs. I knew there was so much more to this simple interaction and held on desperately within myself to find what that was. I didn't want to start balling but did let the tears come. I had no fear about doing this, knowing that the monastery is a safe place to be as you are and to be held by the larger community. Searching for the next best step, I invited my inner child to hold my hand as I walked with the group of 200 others, allowed gentle tears to caress my face as I took one step... one step... one step.
Breathing into my body and feeling it relax a bit, I let myself settle and see what was there. The sister was right and hers was a genuine concern, especially as the weather had been so hot the past few days. I quietly thanked her. More breath. "I wanted to help, though." said my inner child's voice. "Was I not needed? Did I not belong?" More breath as I held my pain with gentle awareness and glad for the gift of being able to touch these tender seeds. I held myself like a mother holds a hurt child, not seeking answers but just being there to comfort the pain and for the child to be seen. It was a very old pain.
I continued to walk to rest of that meditation with my inner child in one hand and Thay, my Oma, and all my other guides and supports in the other. It was very nurturing and, in the end, brought me to ask myself, like the buckets of water, what things in my life am I carrying that I don't need to? Might there be an easier and less strenuous way to arrive at the same, if not better, results? Conversely, what am I not putting effort into that could use the attention and how can I best divert resources to something that is more meaningful? Basically, where am I mismanaging my energies and how does that play out in my life?
As I've come back home off retreat, I'm taking a look around at where and how I am spending my time. As someone in the support services, it's easy to get lost doing things that you think will be of benefit or over- extending your services beyond the Oxygen Mask (i.e. taking care of yourself). Balance in all segments of life is the Middle Way and one that creates freedom alongside diligent effort. It's certainly a practice for me and, in the meantime, I continue to have gratitude to the Sister for bringing it to my attention once again.
So what about you? Where do you find that you are wasting efforts, energy, or time? How does that impact your life and how you care for yourself? If you could change or improve one thing as this season of change is upon us, what would that be? Share with me if you'd like. I'd love to hear your inspiration for transition.
Love and peace to you!
Mindfulness & Stress Management Coach
Eden Energy Medicine Certified Practitioner
8 limbs Holistic Health, LLC