And what I came to find is that the thread running through all these thoughts was always I, I, I. Every thought had me as its center. Not once did I think about someone else's discomfort. Naturally, I knew that other people were uncomfortable, frustrated, and anxious; but when you're sitting cross-legged and your back hurts, all you can think about is yourself and your own problems.
If there's one Buddhist teaching that sesshin really drives home, it's that we all suffer. It's our shared inheritance as humans. It binds us together. And with that comes compassion for others' suffering. A sublte shift occurs between "I"- and "you"-oriented thinking, where the center of your mental and emotional gravity is reverses. You realize that your wants and desires are not the imperatives that you once thought they were. A space opens, and in flows the suffering of everyone around you. And with that compassion, and maybe even a little joy.
Charlotte Joko Beck put it best when she said, "Why do you call it a retreat? What are you retreating from?" It's a great question, a koan of sorts. Some might say that for lay practitioners, it's the one great koan--the Genjokoan, as Dogen might call it.
Easier said than done.
Image borrowed from Creative Commons flickr user: y.