Meditating With Monks: Insight 11 - The Pond
Updated: Jan 22, 2019
This 12-post blog series is dedicated to 12 of the most valuable insights that I gleaned during my 10-Days of Silent Vipassana Meditation at Wat Suan Mokkh, a Buddhist monastery in Surat Thani, Thailand.
Having listened to monks speak for 10 days, I can confirm that most of them are closet comedians. In honour of their light-hearted approach to life, I’ve tried to write these 12 blog posts in an amusing and entertaining way.
The 12 insights are: 1) Silence. 2) Expectation. 3) Fatigue. 4) Adversity. 5) Cleaning Toilets. 6) Impermanence. 7) Attachment. 8) Authority Figures & Control. 9) Pace of Life. 10) The Present Moment. 11) The Pond. 12) The Tree.
I hope that the insights prove to be as valuable for you as they were for me.
Insight 11 - The Pond
By Day 6 of my 10-day silent meditation retreat, I was mentally burned out. After another unsuccessful morning meditation in our hall, I decided that it was time to change my environment.
There was a spot by my ‘favourite’ pond that had attracted me from Day 1. It was a small cylindrical slab placed a short distance into the pond, with a board connecting it to dry land. I would always walk by, expecting someone to have taken the initiative to practice their meditation there…
No one did.
On Day 6, I did.
After lunch, I took my cushion from the meditation hall and placed it on the cylindrical slab. We had our post-lunch Dhamma talk and walking meditation session, as per usual. But when everyone returned to the hall, I stayed behind and walked over to my slab…
I sat on my cushion. I took a few deep breaths. I gazed out over the pond, observing my surroundings. It was cloudy – not my preferred weather, but to my surprise it didn’t bother me in the slightest. I was just so grateful to be away from the hall, away from other people’s energies, fully immersed in nature. A giant monitor lizard even swam by me, and after the initial shock, I relaxed and smiled at it. Nature is a shared domain – even with sharp-toothed lizards on steroids!
I closed my eyes and eased into deep breathing. I could feel the calmness of the pond. I could feel how still the water was. I could feel myself becoming more peaceful with each inhalation, and I could feel my gratitude with every exhalation.
A mantra came to me, and I began to synchronise my breathing with it:
(Inhale) I am calm,
(Exhale) I am still.
(Inhale) I am peaceful,
(Exhale) I am grateful.
I meditated, more clearly and beautifully than ever before…until 25 minutes later, when I felt raindrops falling on my head!
I couldn’t help but laugh. I stood up, stretched my arms out and embraced the rain. I saw the drops of rain hitting the surface of the pond. And as I observed, I realised that I am the pond.
I contemplated suffering, impermanence and how the pond was a reflection of me – and then I gently sat down and returned to my meditation. Over an hour later, my meditation was complete. I noted down my observations and insights from the pond; the following is an extract from my diary entry.
"When the rain falls, it causes ripples of suffering on my surface. But no matter what happens on my surface, deep within, there is always stillness. Winds may disturb my surface, and the rain may bring pain and adversity. But underneath it all, I am still. The wind will stop. The rain will stop. My surface will always return to stillness and calmness.
And as unpleasant as the rain may be, with it comes change and growth, as each droplet adds to me. In my joy, I give myself freely to the sun. The sun disperses and distributes my water far and away into the world. I am a part of everything, and everything is a part of me. I am impermanent. Just as the rain adds to me, the sun takes from me. I am ever-changing.
Without rain, I would not exist. Without sunshine, I would not exist. I have no attachment to self. Every day, a part of me is gone. Every day, new parts are added. Every day, I am reborn…and yet, I am always the pond. I do not crave to become more. The elements give me all I need to thrive in my greatest form.
I give life to the vegetation that lives beside me throughout its life cycle. And I give to the passing creatures that sip, swim and bathe in my waters. I treat all equally with love and compassion, no attachment to one more than another – but my depths are forever my own.
I permit myself to choose my own suffering.
I can let adversity be a stone, disturbing my surface and sinking to my depths, becoming a part of me and making me suffer, until I can finally summon the time, energy and awareness to dissolve it. Or I can let adversity be an insect, skimming my surface, causing ripples and disturbances, but no more. They are impermanent and instantaneous, and I do not permit them to sink to my depths. They come, they go. I feel them, I let them go. I flow.
Stones or insects – the choice is always mine.”
To this day, any time I feel displeasure or suffering, I remember the pond.
I remember that in my depths, there is always stillness. I let that stillness emanate from my depths, calming the ripple of suffering on my surface and letting it fade to nothingness. And then I make a choice to let the cause of that ripple be an insect, not a stone. Suffering may happen to me – but I will not let it define me, nor become a part of me.
I hope that my meditations on the pond are as insightful for you as they were for me. If even one line resonated with you, then I am grateful.
Kam Taj is a University of Cambridge graduate (Engineering Tripos, BA, MEng, 2011-15), ICF-Accredited performance coach, motivational speaker and author of 'The Ultimate Guide To Exam Success'. He runs training workshops at schools, universities and companies on personal & professional development, with a focus on performance improvement in their field of choice. When he's not running workshops or coaching private clients, you can find him playing tennis, hanging on gymnastic rings and making cheesy motivational Instagram posts.