Mindfulness/Insight Meditation retreats offer three primary areas to support – teachings, practices and noble silence.
The teachings include a diverse range of themes such as ethics, problematic issues, empathy, happiness, insights, depths of meditation and realisation. These retreats rest in the exploration and understanding that suffering/dissatisfaction arises. The power to change the causes/conditions for its arising. The capacity to see and know the cessation of the arising of suffering and to develop the arising of a comprehensive way for the resolution of suffering.
The practices include a wide range of tools/methods/tips to cultivate mindfulness and meditation to empower the mind to see clearly what did arise, is arising and might arise from what is arising.
The Deepening of Noble Silence
Noble silence goes much deeper than not talking. Not talking constitutes a superficial interpretation. Noble Silence certainly starts with the silence of the voice except for the short meetings with the teacher(s) or questions in the hall. The meditator agrees not to enter into any of conversation with another participant.
This expresses an act of respect and kindness for the other – whether their partner, a friend, a stranger or a person perceived as unfriendly or noisy. The meditator has the opportunity to speak to the teacher if concerns arise about another meditator.
The absence of any wish to talk provides the opportunity to go deeper to start touching upon Noble Silence. In the depth, the meditator experiences this silence in the hall or during the walking/standing periods as palpable. Consciousness find itself exposed to a far-reaching silence. You can feel it in the air.
Occasionally, a person comes on a retreat determined not to speak to anybody including a teacher. This is usually a warning sign to a teacher that the person has control issues, a tendency to withdraw into his or her small world and a reluctance to share experiences that can serve as a release.
Such a meditator can arrange their own personal silent retreat. It is easy enough. It is not permitted on a retreat to withdraw from a one to one with a teacher. A meditator might see the teacher for around 10 minutes every two or three days. The teacher can then access the experience of the meditator in such a time.
On my retreats, a meeting with myself or a co-teacher or assistant teacher form an indispensable feature of the retreat. Stating it simply: We need to know what arises in the mind of a meditator.
Silence of the Body and Silence of the Mind
The second support for noble silence expresses as noble silence of the body. The meditator applies mindfulness to all uses of the body so it does not generate any waves of sound or any noise. Respect includes punctuality in the hall, very quiet departure from the hall and silence of body with any movement in the sitting posture.
The power of mindfulness and meditation can dissolve most irritations in the throat, a desire to blow the nose/cough and end sounds of swallowing. These constitute practices not rules, vows or use of will power to uphold strong determinations.
The third support for noble silence includes the silence of the mind. Free from distraction, the clear silence of the mind includes absence of even a subtle excess of thinking and projections. This silence reveals itself from calmness of being not through will power and control.
The Formation of Mind of the Stalker
The mindfulness/meditation process may release a range of feelings/attractions/desires.
Such forms of attraction can land upon another person on a retreat. This is the birth of the stalker who feels a magnetic pull to keep looking at a retreatant with the eyes of attraction.
Men tend to be more vulnerable to this form of behaviour. Obviously, the stalker on the retreat does not compare to those who stalk another in daily life. These stalkers make the lives of those they stalk very difficult. The stalked can feel constantly irritated, nervous or fearful. She or he has no interest whatsoever in this unwarranted presence on her retreat. The stalker can rob the object of their desire of peace of mind, a sense of security and sleep.
Some women and men told me that a stalker on a retreat ‘ruined’ their retreat.
Usually, the stalker on Buddhist retreats offers a softer version of street stalking or placing pressure for a conversation. But it is still stalking. The retreat stalker wants to make eye contact with the one he or she fixes upon. She or he rationalises a view that both experience a deep sense of romantic love for the woman or man.
Both interpret every little incident as a signal of mutual love for each other. Signs include being in the food queue one behind the other, attending the yoga class next to each other, their two pairs of shoes next to each other outside the Dharma hall or sharing a task in the mindful work period.
If their eyes happen to meet, the stalker believes that they share a mutual energy developing day by day. If the other retreatant smiles in a brief contact, the stalker believes both have an authentic mutual and romantic interest in each other.
This Monty Python-esque situation can dissolve the whole purpose for being on a retreat, such as inner depth, clarity of heart and respect for the inner silence of others.
The person on the receiving end of the stalker’s attention may have no clue of the daily surveillance of the stalker upon her or him. If she or he senses the attention focusses on her or him, it becomes very uncomfortable.
Teachers offer inter-views. We place on the notice board the times and the first name and first initial of the participant. We do not write out the surname of the participant. Stalking in social media can take place after a retreat. A retreatant may find it uncomfortable receiving emails from another after a retreat. The retreatant voluntarily gives their email address. A thoughtful person does not track down contact details of another through various means.
The Difference between Attraction and Love
Occasionally, the stalker and the stalked start playing mind games with each other getting excited and stimulated about getting attention from each other. The retreat becomes a backdrop to their state of mind. Depths of experience become inaccessible through loss of any noble silence of the mind. The two people indulge in flirtatious behaviour. An expression of superficiality. Attraction lacks depth.
The stalker does not know the difference between attraction and romantic love. Attraction is shallow no matter how strong the sensations and desire in the mind and body. Romantic love is deep, sustains itself for months and years and accompanied with deep respect for the other.
Beautiful women and men of all ages, cultures and nationalities attend retreats. A retreatant recognises the beauty and quiet dignity of a meditator. There is no wish at all to secure her or his attention. An authentic meditator allows another to abide in their sacred space as a sign of love and respect. The one caught up in attraction and often sexual energies needs the attention of the other or makes plans for it in the days ahead.
What Kind of Person becomes a Stalker
The kind of person who stalks a meditator on a retreat usually does not like themselves. He or she regularly focusses on their own failings and faults. The person finds it hard to see through their self-image.
A retreat offers the tools to see through this unresolved patterns that has such a grip on their perceptions. The spiritual language of self-acceptance, self-love and self-compassion makes little real difference in the long term since it feeds the notion of a self who needs something.
This approach in the spiritual/Buddhist world lacks the transformative depth to show the emptiness of trying to build oneself and not knowing when to stop. The self builds itself up and then it crashes. A merciless re-becoming of the self.
A person experiences the challenge of attending a silent retreat. That habitual voice enters the mind of finding the retreat or themselves or both hard to cope with. The stalker wants to experience pleasant feelings. He or she directs his/her mindfulness to another who they find attractive. The stalking then starts day by day with a variety of fantasies of what might develop when noble silence comes to an end on the final morning of the retreat.
The stalker’s attraction to the other serves as a way to escape themselves. He or she might engage in standing meditation with eyes half open watching her or him or sit close in the location in the hall.
Sometimes, the stalker wakes up in the retreat to their stalking. He or she picks up their mat and meditation cushion and moves as far away in the Dharma hall from the person stalked. This constitutes an authentic act, a liberating movement away from being in an obsessive spell around another.
I have told a few stalkers over the years to move well away from the woman or man in the hall. Most listen and act. A few meditators will say: “I have no need to move. I am watching my mind. I am watching my sensations.” I regard this as a spineless defence. Direct action has power to it. It doesn’t matter if plenty in the hall know the reason the stalker moves. The act to change location confirms a breakthrough in ‘self’ awareness.
At times, the stalked move places in the hall to be away from the stalker. This shows the freedom to act. The stalker knows the reason for her or his move. The person thus supports the waking up of the stalker.
Dignity and Integrity
Over the decades, I have told a few stalkers to go on a future weeklong retreat with the primary intention of staying totally dedicated to the practice. This would signal the death of the stalker identity. Such a person would leave the retreat with a depth of dignity and integrity.
That person finds that they like themselves for staying true to a primary wise intention to attend without distraction a retreat. This serves as a principle for daily life. The person stops seeking recognition and approval from another to feel good about themselves. The desire for attention runs through society like an epidemic because the mind has the virus of fault finding with oneself.
The depth of romantic love has the opportunity to dissolve attraction and the energies of pursuing attention to satisfy unresolved needs.
Liberation from dependency on self and other releases peace of mind, happiness and a full engagement with life.
I’m Buddhist and I can tell you the use of the word ‘stalker’ in this article is unskillful. Stalker has a very negative connotation and is often used as a word to discriminate against and be prejudiced towards many individuals.
Thank you Christopher this is superb. Clearly the value of this goes well beyond the confines of the retreat, and reflects that somewhere in a great many of us there is a stalker-mind begging to be released from its dependency on its own projections. True independence is hard-won, and starts from family-history dependencies; but of course it comes to include a great many other forms of dependency too. It does not necessarily start with us (and that is a revelation for many) but we have the power to make it stop with us. With a little help from the right kind of friends.
Thank you, Christopher. It is a clear, informative, necessary article on what is noble silence, what is peace of mind or myself and other, what is a silent retreat, and how to take care of own impulses of the one or other. There is always a choice, a determination, a strong intent. And I learnt in what the tasks, or some of them, of the teacher or assistant consist.