[Resolution] #14 Go on a Spiritual Retreat

A few months ago I started doing some in-depth soul searching.  I felt discontent but didn’t know why.  I won’t whine about it here, but that’s what prompted me to start looking deeper into a more structured spiritual practice than the one in which I was currently participating.  I knew I was a spiritual person but I kind of sank into judgement mode and assumed that if I actually ‘practiced’ I would somehow be less me since I still liked metal music and horror movies and all of those things that seem very un-zen.

I tried meditating at home, working with crystals, the whole bit.  None of it seemed genuine. I felt like I was faking my own spirituality and that’s not how it should be.  In the process though, I signed up for a few meditation groups on Meetup.com, one of which was called True Nature Meditation, organized by a woman named Willow who hosts meditations at her home (lovingly referred to as The Nexus).

I RSVPed to 2 or 3 and managed to psych myself out of all of them.  I listened to my ego tell me that it might be a cult, or that it was dangerous to go to a stranger’s home, or that I had better things to be doing.  But, after reading Dharma Punx and riding the high I felt after being able to actually relate to spiritual anything on a deeper level, I was actually excited, not scared, when I received the e-mail invitation to “A Day of Silent Meditation” at Willow’s home.

It was a one day retreat (perfect for a first timer like me) in which you were invited to spend an entire day of meditation and spiritual work in complete silence.  I was almost more intrigued by the challenge than the spiritual implications, but whatever it was that drove me, I went ahead and signed up and made it official by confirming myself to bring a couple of side dishes for the potluck lunch.

I arrived first thing Sunday morning, potluck dishes in hand, to Willow’s beautiful home in North Austin.  I walked through the door to her standing and smiling at me.  I followed the example of the other two women in front of me and removed my shoes, introduced myself to them and Willow and went on to “make myself at home” as she greeted those trickling in behind me.  The energy in the house, understandably, was incredible.  Even though I’d never been there before it felt like home.  There was natural light streaming into every room, tons of open space, shelves packed with books on Buddhism and meditation, just…amazing.

Then, as 10 o’ clock rolled around, we all went upstairs, took a seat on a pillow in the circle of the 11 people that were there, and the day began.  After a short intro and an explanation of the logistics of house and how to navigate a group of strangers without speaking, we “entered the silence,” and all took our vow to remain quiet and reflective for the next 8 hours.

The schedule for the day looked like this:

10:00 Introduction: Entering the Silence.

10:15 Dharma Talk

11:00 Sitting

11:40 Ten-minute break

11:50 Sitting

12:30 Lunch break – 90 minutes, in Silence

2:00 Sitting period

2:50 Sitting period

3:45 Yoga with David

4:30 Dharma Talk

5:30 Integration Exercise

6:00 Closing Dedication

Dharma Talks

I’d never experienced a Dharma Talk before.  The one time that I tried to go to one it was replaced by a financials meeting of all things, so this was new for me.  The Dharma Talks were not given by Willow, but were recordings that she played from her computer, given originally by a spiritual teacher named Adyashanti at a larger spiritual retreat. The talks consisted of Adya(shanti) speaking about, among other things, the process of awakening, separating yourself from your ‘ego,’ living your truth, and more.  I found that the most refreshing thing about listening to him was that he was able to articulate things that I already inherently knew, but perhaps had not identified yet or acknowledged as something important.  It was interesting to hear someone put something that you already knew into terms that you may not have thought of yourself.  It was–validating.

Of course, there were a few things that I struggled with, particularly with my ‘ego.’  Adya claimed that, in no uncertain terms, nothing really had ‘meaning.’  It just…was what it was.  Of course, he went straight to where my mind was and was very clear that that did not mean that everything was ‘meaning-LESS’ since meaning and meaninglessness are both constructions of the ego.  Things just are as they are.  There is no good day, no bad day, there is just THIS day. I tried very hard to let go at this point, to let that be true, but he’s right. Even after you’ve identified that something is probably ego-based, it’s not easy to let it go.  I’ve got some work to do there.

Sitting Meditation

The meditation periods were what I worried about most.  I’ve spent almost my entire life perfecting the art of multi-tasking.  To sit for 40 minutes of intentionally turning inward and being absolutely still and quiet sounds like a dream and nightmare all at once. I think that the more I do it, the more beneficial it will become.  I found myself struggling to focus on my breath, release thoughts that creeped in, and worst of all….stay awake.  At one point I became so pre-occupied with one particular (and completely irrational) thought that I was sure I’d have to stand up and walk away or it would end in an anxiety attack.  But, that’s where the best lessons were learned.  Since distraction (or a psychotic break) was not an option, I really had to force myself to let the thought go and return to the only thing I had, my breath.  I think I could get the hang of this, but I see now why people see zen meditation as such a difficult practice….it really is.

Lunch and Yoga

After sitting and listening quietly for hours on end, the chance to move around, even while remaining silent, is…like pickles and ice cream….to a pregnant woman.  (Read: so enjoyable, it renders me unable to create good similes.)

At lunch we all set out our dishes and filled our plates with a little bit of everything, all wholesome and delicious. Then, after silently applauding myself for successfully navigating a freaking potluck without speech or eye contact, I stepped out into the backyard where a bubbling hot tub just begged for someone to enjoy it.  Unprepared to get wet, I settled for rolling up my pants and soaking my feet while I ate.  Willow’s yard was surround by trees, wildlife, and a beautiful cloudless sky.  Those things that you really forget about when you have a computer screen you should be looking at instead.  Then, with my remaining 30 minutes after eating….I napped in her hammock.  Blissful?  Yes.  Yes it was.

Yoga was a bit of the same feeling.  Just grateful for the chance to move, we followed David (Willow’s husband, I think) through some light yoga.  It was also a reminder that I really need to start sitting up straight when I’m working. My back is not so happy with me.  Thanks David.  Willow’s cat Mookie joined us too.  You think sitting for 40 minutes is a challenge?  Try to stay silent while a cat rubs against your face while you’re in downward dog.

Integration

As the day came to a close, Willow did an exercise to ‘re-integrate’ us into the real world. Some people chose to remain in silence, but the rest of us went around the circle to express how we’d experienced the day.  Each of us, despite following the same schedule and sitting in the same room, seemed to have had completely different experiences, some enjoyable, some difficult, but all agreed that we were grateful to have taken part.  Then, we ended by dedicating our day of spiritual work to someone/something that we loved.  Mine was dedicated to my mother and sister, the two people that have taught me the most about spirituality, love, and living my truth.  And, to my boyfriend, who gives me the solid support I need to continue exploring myself and the world around me.

I finally collected my things and approached Willow to thank her for opening her home to me and the others for what ended up being one of the best things I’d ever willed myself to do.  She reached out to me with both arms, embraced me tightly and said “You broke through.”  I assume she was referring to the fact that during the integration exercise I’d expressed that I was originally very nervous about coming and participating.  Little did she know how much of a true spiritual breakthrough the whole day was.  I’m looking forward to the next time we cross paths, or share one.

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