None of this has actually happened today, but rather has happened over about two weeks ago.
Between the 25th of March and the 3rd of April I stayed, along with many friends, in the Buddhist Monastery Samye Ling, which is near Lockerbie, in Scotland. It's surrounded by many rolling hills and the darkest pine forests I've ever seen. Completely black and lifeless between the huge trees. The surrounding countryside is covered in mist, and the air is jam-packed with ions. With the car windows wound down, it was one of the best smelling journeys I've ever had.
I had approached this trip with a growing sense of trepidation. The whole point of this retreat was to get a specific empowerment from one of the resident Lamas in order to begin the ngondro - the preliminary practices carried out before any serious study of topics such as Mahamudra or Dzogchen or even vipassana can be carried out. It's not easy, and can take many years. I wasn't sure I really wanted to do this, and I was beginning to think that my love of the Tibetan Buddhism view of Buddhism was on the wane - I am more enamoured with the sutra-level Buddhist philosophy such as that practiced at the famous, and now destroyed, ancient Buddhist university called Nalanda (which also practiced the tantras, though). Vajrayana just wasn't for me, as I felt no connection to it at all.
The week, however, was life-changing in the way few things are. The week-long practice, which was related to the tantric buddha, Guru Rinpoche was a deeply intense experience. The chanting, meditation and visualisation dredged up many emotions and feelings from the depth of the unconscious, and I often moved from rage to bliss to complete equanimity simply over the course of a day. At the end of every session I knew myself a little better, and I felt I had become noticably more compasionate and open in my attitude.
I also learnt how to work. In order not to go off the edge, we carried out menial tasks such as cooking, cleaning etc. This was very useful in becoming grounded - and completely necessary. I discovered that single-mindedly working until a task was complete, and completed perfectly, was meditation. By avoiding any distractions, and never thinking about how to slack off early or to do a job that was just 'good enough'. I try to do this at work, and it's like magic. Although my job's tedious, I am now sincerely glad. It's harder to pay attention to, and that is the best point. An obstacle becomes a friend.
There were several things that happened that were... a bit more than ‘mundane’ that happened that week. Here's one I'm happy to be open about.
One night I left the temple, a truly amazing building, after an hour meditating on my own, and quietly slipped on my shoes. Then one of the most intense experiences I’ve ever had happened. I guy, not much older than me, shouted hello. Asking me if I was “on silent” (ie, not speaking during my retreat) I replied in the negative. Then he asked if there were any teachings on in the evening, as I was carrying a load of books, as always. I explained that there were no teachings being held at all, as far as I knew, since all the time was being taken up with the Guru Rinpoche prayers and meditations.
At this, he thanked me. And that was it - and I have never had anyone, ever, say thank you the way he did. It was in a completely open and completely genuine way.
And I mean completely and mindblowingly. The way a buddha would thank someone. As he walked off, I almost felt like crying.
After this retreat, my world’s very different now. I no longer have any doubts. Not a single one.