I’ve always dreamt of being a peace warrior, not in the sense of soldier, but rather as a zen buddhist warrior centuries ago, in Asia. There’s for me an aura that emanates from these warriors. As if they were embodied wisdom: right action, right view, right words – all at once, all in one. Inner and outer in full alignment.

Just recently I was in a five-day silent retreat with the Insight Meditation Society in the Netherlands. The title (or should I say ‘label’) of my community task was ‘meditation hall’. I was asked to ensure the regulation of fresh air in the room, and to swiffer and/or hoover the hall as I thought was needed. I noticed my mind fantasizing about peacefully and gracefully arranging the cushions as a piece of art.  Little did I know….

My heart shrank when the group was told, during the welcome brief, that one person only was responsible for opening (& closing) of the three (high up) windows and doors. I remember wanting to be as small as a fly when all eyes turned to me, and thinking to myself: “This is misery guaranteed: for some it will be too cold, for others too warm! Yaks!!! Why me?” (Maybe the challenge I needed? Letting go of pleasing, of being seen as ‘a nice person’?)

The first morning I joyfully wiped the wooden floor, savoring the serenity of the meditation hall. “This was exactly the right yogi-task for me, much better then cutting the veggies”, I thought. I was almost dancing, caught in a ballet with the Swiffer as my partner. I frowned when the teacher told us about the ‘window war’ that lasted a few days during a retreat in the US: “Another war!!!! Our world is full of wars! With people engaged in practicing wakefulness??? Really, anything can happen in the US….”

Around 14:28, while the meditation hall was filling up gradually, I blenched at the sound of slamming windows. I turned around and saw a fellow meditator with the long stick in her hands, closing the windows with vigour. My body cringed as a thought of failure flashed through my mind – I clearly was not up to this simple task! Shame creeped in as a friend of mine looked in my direction, her eyes asking what was happening.

Shuffling evaporates as the afternoon meditation sat in. Silence and immobility outside; clamour and tempest inside. Trying to make sense of what just happened. Thoughts about claiming and granting leadership: “Well, this person clearly does not grant you the leadership for this role!” Thoughts about roles and boundaries: “This is my responsibility – and everybody knows it – that was clearly stated. Do I take over her tasks?”

Time for practicing the third guideline ‘open’ in pairs [2] . I was so distressed that I couldn’t choose, nor was I chosen. Two people ended up without a partner: me and the person who slammed the windows! “Outch!!!! Anybody would have been fine: but not with this woman!!! What now???? Can I do this?” The noble warrior was clearly gone.

I practiced ‘opening’ outside in nature, walking briskly, as if I wanted to shake off the negative vibes. The bliss of ‘opening’ is sparse but happens like rays of sunshine breaking through the clouds.  The torrent had turned into a creek when I was facing the same meditation partner for the Insight Dialogue practice. I felt relieved when she went first. Her sharing of her experience in nature touched me. I ccould see the joyful, unprejudiced child in her eyes, allowing space for her vulnerability. Tears welled up in my eyes: “was I really ready to go to war – an hour or so ago- with such beautiful person, for a window?”

When we all returned to Noble Silence, I wondered how often I become a ‘window warrior’ when I feel my role is challenged, when I identify with my responsibility and how easy it is to disarm my (inner) bomb – just walking, opening, silence and listening. Simple steps we all can take, at any time.

I wondered: “How many conflicts could have been avoided? How many strikes, how many wars could we have spared, if leaders and politicians knew about this practice – just the first 3 steps of Insight Dialogue (PRO): Pause, Relax and Open?”



[1] This is the community-task I usually get in silent retreats

[2] Insight Dialogue by Gregory Kramer has 6 guidelines : Pause, Relax, Open, Trust emergence, Listen deeply, Speak the truth

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