There’s usually an expectation that we’ve had some sort of epiphany after attending a meditation retreat. Truth be told, the main epiphany we’re usually likely to get is, “Yup. Still neurotic.”
For a second time, I just wrapped up a week-long meditation retreat led a senior teacher from the Shambhala Buddhist lineage. This year provoked a much more thorough, genuine reaction for me compared to last year, when myself and most others were caught by a cold going around. Meditating is… unique when one is ill.
We began the Monday after Christmas, located at the San Francisco Shambhala Meditation Center. A basic delight of an urban retreat lies in knowing that I get to sleep in my own bed, with lunches I’d prepared myself. Technology was kept as minimal as possible. I can’t recommend this practice enough.
The format was simple: arrive in the morning for a light breakfast, small periods of teachings, frequent periods of sitting and walking meditation. We’d all silently eat lunch together, then separate for chores. Teachings and sitting extended into the evening. New Year’s Day was fully silent, although the rest of the retreat was held in functional silence.
As excited as I’d been to carve out the space to attend, I wasn’t truly comfortable with being there until Friday or Saturday… at which point my thought was, “No! Sunday can’t be around the corner! I’m finally really okay being here!” Interestingly enough, it wasn’t until Thursday of last week that I felt like I was fully integrating back into the regular world.
Initially a large part of me resented the time spent sitting. There were multitudes of projects I could be working on. I could be cleaning out files. Cleaning out my room. Oooh, there’s a ton of items I should post up for sale. Do I really need this? (Purging was a central theme.) Oh no, I still have to record some videos before the launch of Your Better Body. I don’t want to let anybody down! Argh, my body hurts. As in 8-9 on a scale of 10 level of pain. You mean I can’t just lie in bed reading fluffy books, waiting to feel better? Ugh, this person bothers me.
It was time to face all the ways I hide from myself, methods I use to cover up what really bothers me. Different times throughout retreat found me prickly, sad, raw, disappointed, nervous, excited, numb. I experienced a wealth of emotions and sensations. Fear of failing because I didn’t do something right. Fear to fail because I wasn’t doing something, not doing enough. Tired from burning out from doing too much. Tired from expecting more of myself than is reasonable. Tired from not supporting myself. Seeing where I lash out when feeling wounded. The lack of love and gentleness I showed myself in 2015 was startling. A strong realization that my friends are astonishing for the patience they show in supporting and encouraging me, even when I want to let depression suck me under.
We discussed topics such as loving kindness, compassion, and gentleness. I did my best to internalize the talks and readings, knowing I won’t get it all right away. It’s taken time to learn how to be mean to myself. It will take time to learn how to work with that.
Meditation isn’t about solving all our problems. It’s becoming aware of where our habits take over, accepting that even the icky stuff is part of being human. We can’t obliterate the dark parts. We can learn from them.
I came out of my retreat with these two main aspirations:
- I dedicate this year to developing love and compassion for myself.
- May I honor and build upon my accomplishments.
In closing, let me leave you with a teaching central to the retreat. “May you be open and receptive to the dynamic, fluid and impermanent energy of life.” ~Pema Chodron