I spent last week at a silent meditation retreat in a rural part of Massachusetts. It actually wasn’t very silent. People didn’t talk, but the place running the retreat is in the midst of an extensive building project, and eight hours a day, directly outside the meditation hall, cement trucks churned and other trucks dropped off gigantic loads of dirt and bulldozers deposited it into wide holes and all of this was accompanied by the very loud beeping and grinding and digging such things generally entail. It didn’t bother me, though, partly because it sounded like home but mostly because I was far more bothered by the person near me sucking on lozenges, and whenever the construction noise picked up that meant I could no longer hear the lozenge hitting the edge of her teeth.
The retreat lasted ten days, and by day five I was in the strange space I arrive at under such circumstances. One moment my mind felt like a planet floating in outer space, the next I was infuriated by a person doing nothing other than considerately trying not to cough by sucking on a lozenge, and the next I was suddenly aware of a pain in my knees so acute I couldn’t imagine how I had ever managed to notice anything else. Once the hour was up I would walk outside, my mind momentarily clear until someone passed in front of me and a single thought would appear, such as, “That man is wearing a skirt.” Gender roles are all reversed at these things. The men wear sarongs. The women wear loose fitting pants. And even the most mundane observations take on significance when surrounded with so much silence.
The same seemed to be true of dreams, this was all I could figure. Midway through I woke up in the middle of the night with the feeling that I had just had a very meaningful message. I opened my eyes and sat up, this was how important it felt. For a second the dream was gone, but then I remembered it. First the image returned: two cows in a field, and atop each cow was another cow, but sitting the way a person would on a horse, with their two back legs danging down on either side. Then the message: “The world is best viewed from atop a cow.” Make of it what you will.