My introduction to a meditation retreat was in high school. Senior week was coming up. (You know the hormone-driven, alcohol-fueled, beach week preceding graduation from high school where suddenly everyone is friends and you are invincible? Most schools have some version of this rite of passage.) My then boyfriend was choosing to skip senior week to meditate for 10 days straight at a Buddhist retreat with his father instead. I didn't get it. I mean, what 18-year-old boy skips an unsupervised weekend with his girlfriend and friends in order NOT to speak or make eye contact for 10 days while meditating on the tickle of a fly on his arm?! No, I didn't get it then. But I was intrigued.
Fast forward through college and grad school to adult life when I was having a conversation with my neighbor about his plans for his upcoming Army retirement. He was planning on traveling the world with his wife but first he wanted to visit the birth home of his Japanese mother – a place he had never been to find people he had never known – in order to pay respect to his ancestors. In association with this pilgrimage, he planned to attend a meditation retreat.
“Have you heard of that before? Some people think it’s pretty strange.”
Yes, I had heard of this before. No, it didn’t sound strange to me.
"Some people, people like you and me, need something more. Need something deeper. It is not enough to just live. We need to experience life to understand and accept that this is it."
This time, I was not only intrigued, but I was awakened. And I nodded my head and thought, "Yes. I see now."
"I don't like the way it is, but it is." ~Matt Rein
I applied for a retreat over December 24-January 4th and got accepted then wait-listed. I didn't share it openly because I knew people wouldn't understand. I mean, who uses their entire holiday vacation from work in order NOT to speak or make eye contact for 10 days while meditating on the tickle of a fly on her arm?! Most people wouldn't get it.
I got the call about two weeks out that I was not going to make it off the wait-list and that I would not be attending the retreat. I was devastated. I hadn't even tried to make holiday plans. I had been planning to be mentally isolated and alone. Now it seemed I was stuck alone for no reason. I cried. The current had borne me back again. Then I spent the entire holiday week in New York City alone with 8.5 million other people. A completely different way to meditate on life.
For the next six months, I continued with my busy, habit-filled life. Randomly, the retreat popped into my mind and I was impressed to apply again. I had already been making major life changes in other areas, so what was one more random event to add to the list?
Again I got the call about two weeks out that I hadn’t made it off the wait-list. My heart sank, “But,” he continued, “there is a retreat the following week in a different location - further away - that we can confirm you into right now.” Going a week later would complicate things. It was a difficult time to get away. I was just finishing teaching summer school and had already scheduled movers for just one day after the retreat would finish. In order to make it work, I would have to pack up my entire life two weeks earlier than anticipated and then be prepared to move within 12 hours of returning home. But, the new location was tucked away in the mountains, miles from any city, sequestered in nature – my holy place. It was like a sign telling me that the sacrifices I had to make to get there were worth it. I accepted and confirmed my attendance. Then I purged. I packed. I organized. I planned ahead. And I left for my retreat open and ready to learn.
· 4:00am wake-up gong
· Meditate for 12 hours per day
· No eye contact, physical contact, or communication with others
· Sparse meals for breakfast and lunch
· No dinner
As I wandered the tiny paths of the camp where the retreat was held, I was aware of so many things that I would have otherwise overlooked in my normal, day-to-day life of work – eat – sleep – interact – wash – rinse – repeat.
I met a blue-tailed lizard who did a seductive sideways dance when I startled him along the trail.
I watched in awe as a thunderstorm kissed the tops of the mountains before rolling down towards our camp.
I saw the most magnificent insect I’ve ever encountered. I will call him the “Viking boat bug” because he looked exactly like a Viking ship complete with four oars for wings that flapped in unison as he flew in the light breeze.
I met feral cats who slept in the sunlight, pranced across the field to hide under bushes, and lived an enviable life of complete abandon.
And then, of course, the stars. That first morning at 4:15am as I stumbled to one of what would become many 2.5 hour-long meditation sessions, I looked up and was dumbfounded. So many stars! Stars that my logical mind knew were always there, but had been tricked into forgetting due to living so long near a city where a paltry spattering of celestial bodies passed for “The Sky.” But this sky was real. This sky was magnificent. This sky reminded me why I had wanted to be here in the first place: To step outside of myself, to experience the world, and to understand and accept it exactly as it is.
Life is what it is.
Nothing can hurt us more than our own wild mind. Our greatest objective in this life is to tame our mind. Too often we live as a prisoner of our own habit patterns – of mind and of body.
So what if you're single, divorced, over-weight, stuck in a dead-end job, stuck in a miserable marriage/relationship, alone, barely making ends meet, the victim of another's choices, a slave to your own poor choices, sick, grieving loss, or any other trial that you may be experiencing? The only truth is impermanence. In no matter what condition you find yourself, this will also change.
Can we take our misery and turn it into happiness?
Do not both originate 100% within ourselves?
Are not both simply reflections of our perceptions of this world?
Could the key to our salvation really be to accept with equanimity everything we encounter?
No matter what emotions (past or present), no matter what predictions (positive or negative), and no matter what suppositions (educated or arbitrary) you impose upon life,
It is what it is.
So what are you going to do about it?