There are questions to which we still don’t know the answers, like how confident and comfortable we are at the thought of our own death.
That question is about as primal as it gets in terms of things that are most conducive to insecurity and fear. We can work up a great deal of concern about not getting our coffee at the right temperature, but it pales to the thought, “I am going to die.” We put off thinking about that.
Whether we are living a lay or monastic life, we are extraordinarily adept at distracting ourselves. We can do that anytime, anywhere: on retreat, at home, at work, in the car, or even under ideal conditions. There is always some project to do; even stuck on a desert island with nothing to do, somehow it becomes essential to count the grains of sand on the beach.
I remember one monk who was living in solitude for a year in a cave. Food was brought to him, so he didn’t go on almsround. He became obsessed with trying to remember the names of all fifty states in America. The cave was completely dark; he had to light a candle. He kept losing track so he had to write them all down. And this monk is not even American. It is a great example of how the mind gets obsessed.
To be able to draw back to what’s important and necessary is a big part of training.
This reflection by Luang Por Pasanno is from the book, Don’t Hold Back, (pdf) pp. 95-96.