On a meditation retreat this weekend high in the mountains, my job was to ring a bell each morning at 6:55 to remind my cabin mates that the first sit of the day was imminent. Time to pull on coats and boots for the short walk through the snow to the meditation building.
As I picked up the bell the first morning—right on time—I realized everyone had already left. I was alone in the cabin. I felt silly doing it, but gave the bell a shake and quickly put it down, snuffing its ring in mid-clang. I was late for the sit and spent most of it with dark thoughts about whoever designed the schedule so the needless bell ringer had to be late.
Sharon Salzberg tells us in the last guided meditation for her 28-day challenge, “As alone and cut off as we sometimes may feel, the reality, the truth of our existence is that we’re all connected.” I did not feel connected. Alone and cut off, yes.
Later that day at the mountain retreat, we discussed why the Buddha touched the earth that long night when he sat under the Bodhi tree. Who is there to witness you, the demon Mara mocked. Why do you even think you deserve to be here? He touched the earth.
I’d never thought about it like that before: that he deserved to be there. The Buddha himself had to work at the realization that he deserved to be there. Wow.
Sitting with that in silence with my fellow meditators I could feel my connection to them, to the room, to the wind blowing outside, to the mountains that surrounded us. It might sound incredibly daft to many people, but I felt deep inside that I deserved to be there.
So the next morning when I had to ring the bell in the empty cabin, I rang it soft but also long, relishing in the last clear notes.