Not long ago, I met someone who had just returned from a 10-day silent meditation retreat. He's been to more than a dozen silent retreats. Is that possible? I told him I'd be less impressed if he'd won 12 Ironman competitions. I've always admired people who meditate, and from time to time, I give it a shot. Sixty seconds is usually my limit; Ten days sounds like a form of torture that should be reserved for only the most nefarious. Anyway, even though I'm great at spacing out, I balk at the subject of meditation. But for some reason hearing about its virtues from my friend who drives a truck, likes The Sound of Music, and appreciates jalapeno hamachi and sake martinis intrigued me. So I stood at the edge of a very steep cliff and jumped--feet-first into silence at a Northwest meditation retreat.
The retreat schedule was like this: sit in silent mediation for 35 minutes, walk in silence for 40 minutes, sit in silence for 35 minutes, listen to a "dharma talk" for 40 minutes, eat in silence. Repeat. It sounded worse than doing my taxes while having my blood drawn. But it was a dare to myself. So I did it. The room was full of meditators who had all sorts of props, special bolsters and benches and ponchos and so forth. I arrived with my water bottle. And my courage.
When the meditation teacher guy rang the start bell, my mind did what minds do. I reflected and planned and worried and wondered. I was reminded to focus on the sensation of breathing. (Btw, exhales are warmer than inhales.) The minutes were fat, but I actually survived the first sit without leaving. Phew. Then we went outside and walked in slo-mo. At one point, I experienced a spontaneous wave of joy. Weird. During the talk, I heard some things that resonated. Teacher-man spoke about the "enough-ness" of right now. He said that when we are in a state of getting from here to there, we are in a state of suspended happiness. He said breath is our only reliable refuge, and a true sense of well-being doesn't depend on conditions. He also talked about the concept of letting go and said it's not something you do. It occurs. Mindfulness creates the condition for things to liberate themselves. So let be. I liked that. I wrote some things down in my notebook. (And yes, in the margin I scribbled some notes about returning shoes to REI and needing more lemons, oatmeal and shea butter.)
The first sit was tolerable and the last one was actually pleasant. Scientific studies continue to document the benefits of meditation, and in my experience, I enjoyed a heightened sense of clarity and peace. It was also a effective reminder that words are powerful, but so often they get in the way of the fundamental richness of experience. So please pardon the eat, pray, love-ishness of this post, but I just had to share my latest lesson learned...don't hesitate to meditate. You can pick up the lemons on your way home.