Monday, May 25, 2015

I just got back from my FIRST ever silent meditation retreat!  3 days long...wearing my refuge bracelet with pride;)  I earned it!

So, the first evening, we gathered in the meditation building for guided meditation and instruction, and took the vow of noble silence:  that means no speaking, and no eye contact.  We were to ignore each other. It was very weird at first--uh--where do i look?  I soon found that my big floppy hat was most helpful in keeping my noble silence and respecting that of my fellow yogis as it shielded my eyes and theirs from meeting accidentally.

Day 2 was the first full day, and I found the sitting familiar enough and the walking meditation quite pleasant.  Most sessions were 30 minutes to 45 minutes, one after the other.  But they treated us like grownups--we could do what we wanted.  I chose to adhere to the schedule and to substitute one walking meditation for Yoga, as permitted by the retreat teacher.  As is common, I struggled with a bit of drowsiness due to deep relaxation and the sudden bubble of sensory deprivation I was in, not to mention lack of sleep....I had elected to camp, which i do NOT recommend, as the retreat center is basically along the side of the highway.  Not so peaceful at night with 18-wheelers and semis roaring by at 3 in the morning with their blinding lights penetrating my pathetic little tent.  ANYWAY. Day 2 was easier than expected. Until work meditation.

My shift was at 5:15, so I arrived at 5:15 for Pot Scrubbing in the Kitchen.  No problem.  Anyway, for practical purposes, I asked the staff how long a shift was, and they didn't know. there was one other girl there, and then me, scrubbing a HUGE pile of bowls, pots, pans, utensils, baking sheets, chafers.  By myself.  but no one else came.  and I was HUNGRY.  I had nearly passed out during the sit right before--was it from hunger? Dinner was served at 5:30, and I could smell the delicious food and see the yogis lining up to eat.  pretty soon the line was gone, and FINALLY a young man showed up to help scrub pots.  He seemed to know where everything went and how to do it...what did i miss? I asked him (not silently)  when his shift was and he said 5:15.  That's when I realized that my shift was a cruel joke and no one cared if I ate or not and maybe all the food was gone and I'd still be scrubbing pots when the bell rang to get back into the meditation hall for a sit.  Whoever scheduled me for a 5:15 totally hated me and was out to teach me a lesson about being a real yogi.  Wow did I spin out!  My head went bananas with this being some kind of personal trick to teach me a lesson about virtue or something and finally the kitchen began to fill up with pot scrubbers so i spoke to the woman who was there first and as I hoped, she encouraged me to go eat!  So I did.  I realized, later, that my first work meditation was on day 1, but for whatever reason I assumed that it definitely did NOT start the first evening.  I mean!!!!!

Day 3, again, not the most restful night, but eager to go deep into meditation and glide through another day.  Not so.... I found all day, my mind was completely out of control.  In spite of my best efforts to concentrate, I was whisked easily away into fantastical scenarios and could not fight it! SO frustrating!  I had ZERO concentration.  And no ability to detach from my thoughts they were so consuming!  I was powerless!  Not to mention the pain in my lower back that seemed to be radiating from my glutes, probably because I had been sitting for a day and a half in the traditional yogi cross leg position knowing that I have tightness in the outer hips and that is NOT a comfortable position for me but I wanted to sit like i'm "supposed to."  SO, fortunately, Mary introduced compassion practice, and so I began to reflect on compassion for my self and I had to really think long and hard about where I went wrong and what a compassionate response to my current situation looked like!

I began to recognize that I was "supposed to" sit in a position that is comfortable for ME, not what everybody else is doing.  AND that also compassion meant spending some time lying on my back with my knees bent to relieve this lower back pressure, and gently stretching my spasming glutes.  Compassion was NOT forcing my body to contort into yogic outer appearance, but being with what is natural for ME.  Fine.  So I entered the next meditation sit kneeling, which was still tensing my back and hard to maintain even though it was MUCH more comfortable, my spasming muscles were tender. Again with the irresistible scenarios, playing out in my mind, hooking me completely and I powerless to resist them.  I found my body twitching, and I SO WANTED TO  QUIT!  I really, REALLY wanted to give up!  I was SO uncomfortable, and achey and twitchy and spasmy and my mind was everywhere but on my breath forever and ever.  on and ON.  It felt profoundly unsuccessful.

After lunch, I was prepared to just face really rough meditation for the rest of the retreat, but a miracle happened:  My heart broke open, thanks to meditation instruction and guided heart practice from Dave.  He invited us to breathe into our hearts.   Even acknowledging my heart was something i hadn't done often or intentionally since I was a child.  Then he suggested that we acknowledge that though we pretend every day, up to this moment, life has NOT been an easy ride.  we offered this phrase to ourselves over and over again:  "I see your pain, and I care about you."  i could hear sniffling all around me, and I know I was among a room full of yogis with tears streaming down.  It was a powerful, moving, and painful release.  Immediately after that, my meditation was TRANSFORMED.  I could focus clearly on my breath with very minimal wandering off for the entire half hour!!!  Dave had helped me break into what was blocking me!

I have to say, I got what I came for.  I had dismissed heart practice as easy, and guided practice as lightweight, the "real" practice was the naked concentration with no "crutch" to lean on.  Well, I was wrong.  It is the heart practice that I need the most!  without the ability to engage with my heart, there is no concentration.  Powerful, meaningful lesson that has transformed my practice forever.