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My Silent Meditation Retreat: What I Learned

Warning: This post will probably be full of contradictions… You’re getting my raw feedback to last’s weeks retreat and I’m still processing a lot of what I heard, what I learned about myself, and what difference it will have on my life.

I realize that this post is going to bring up a bunch of questions for you. Well, lovely snickerdoodle, let me tell you in advance, I do not have the answers. When you comment, I’ll do my best to give you my opinion or take on the whole shebang, but this is my own exploration as well.

I’m soaking in new ways of thinking about life and pondering integration with my current reality and mission for this company. I definitely don’t have the answers!

Also, I’m making absolutely no claim to expertise about Buddhism, practicing the dharma path, or Vipassana meditation. I’m was just a girl, sitting and walking and trying not to slurp my soup, in silence for 7 days at this retreat with these amazing teachers: Rodney and Heather.

The actual physical experience of being on retreat was interesting. Interesting and hard and insightful and sometimes downright boring. Over and over, I sat for 45 minutes and then walked for 45 minutes, all the while meditating.  Meditating basically meant I was trying to concentrate my “puppy mind” (Come back little unruly puppy! Stay! Sit! Where have you gone puppy mind?! COME I say!) on my breathe.  In Vipassana meditation, the awareness of your present reality is allowed to rest on your breath, the manifestation of pain/discomfort in your body, or in noticing your physical senses (hearing, smell, etc) but that is all. Each time that awareness wonders, you acknowledge that you were thinking or fantasizing or remembering or planning and then bring it back to the breath.

So I sat on my mat for 45, walked for 45, sat for 45 and so on from 5:45 am to 9:45 pm. We listened to Dharma talks from Heather and Rodney each night. We had two personal 15 minute interviews over the course of the week (I could talk!) to ask questions about the retreat itself, Buddhism in general, and the crazy ass saga dreams I was having about saving the world (common theme of mine), having twin baby girls, and skiing/kicking some ninja ass at Starbucks with Ev’Yan and Jonathan.

(Apparently, really vivid dreams are common… And no, I’m not preggo. And kicking ninja butt was ridiculously fun with fabulous people! Seriously, you guys, my dreams were a-mah-zing…)

What else? I keep getting emails asking me how the retreat went, so although I wasn’t sure I wanted to share, I’m braving this very muddled post and just diving in.   There was delicious vegetarian meals, shower houses, gorgeous rain forests to stroll, peaceful raccoons chasing the kid carrying the compost buckets, sleeping on the top bunk, sneaking a few journal entries, and lots and lots of silence. And tea.  It was freezing and I swear I drank 10 cups of tea a day.  Sometimes my walking meditation turned into tea-drinking meditation…

So what did I learn? Well, briefly, lots. The following points are in no particular order, but they are what keep running through my mind. Most ideas are from either Rodney or Heather during their dharma talks, and a few are thoughts that came up while I was there.  And at this point, it’s all woven together so I probably can’t tell you what I heard versus what popped into my head. That was the most confusing paragraph ever.

Deep breath.   Here goes!

It’s okay to start something new, whatever your age, whether you know a little or a lot about it. Sometimes a calling or a hunch or a spark is all you have and all you need to start. Don’t be afraid or let your previous opinions hold you back from exploring something new. Newness is what keeps us alive and curious and passionate about life.

Being, not doing, is what life is all about. Part of living a life examined, a life on purpose, a life free of struggle, is to STOP doing and just be. Practice being.

I have a real issue about getting/doing things right. This is one of those things I’ve learned about myself and it keeps coming up and holding me back. How the hell do you get “a meditation retreat” right? How does one get a new business “right”? What does that even mean? What am I judging myself so harshly upon?

Give up trying to control your life. We give our happiness away on external circumstances. We invest everything in our circumstances and spent our lives pursuing the pleasant and avoiding the unpleasant. The catch is that we’re fooled into believing we can manipulate it all, when in fact, we can’t. We are at the mercy of our circumstances and when things don’t go as planned (which, face it, happens all the time, even with the best of intentions!) we get frustrated, depressed, and blame ourselves. The freedom we seek is in the experience of life, of simply being with everything that comes up, and not tying our happiness to controlling our external circumstances.

We each possess the full range of human emotions. What do you do when painful feelings come up? Rage, lust, envy, self doubt, fear, or sadness? You stay with them, holding them lovingly in your heart, with an open curiosity and wonder.  Just because they arise does not mean you have to act on them or give them importance.

Freedom. It’s a state of BEING, not doing. It’s being content. Being peaceful. Being compassionate. Being interconnected, both with yourself and with others.

A lot of the time, ambition and creativity are exclusive of each other. It doesn’t mean we have to give up making plans, going after dreams, moving forward– but we may have to examine HOW we’re taking action.  Is it full of internal struggles? Doubt? Can we alleviate some of that suffering by being present to each moment, without giving it a label of bad or good?  Can we be creative for the sake of being creative and not let ambition mix up the process?

Everyone has their own story, but life is bigger than all our stories. Compassion stems from knowing, deep in your heart, that everyone is exactly like you.  They dream, cry, have children, get frustrated, make love, crave peace, are born, and will die.   When we hold tight to our particular story, our way of doing things, our insistence that our opinions are right, we are disconnecting from the bigger picture, from life itself.  Recognize that you can live life beyond the limits of your story.

Umm.   Well.   Do you have enough to think about?  I sure as hell know I do!

I went to the retreat hoping for a little peace, but also intrigued by the spiritual beliefs behind the meditation I practice. What draws me to practicing the dharma is that there’s no worship involved. Yes, there’s bowing and Buddha statues and respect, but when it gets down to it– it’s a practice, a way of experiencing things for yourself in your quest for connection, for peace.

Opening the floor for questions and comments…

photo credit:h-k-d

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