Retreating from my meditation retreat
I'm leaving this Sunday for a seven day meditation retreat. Nevermind that at the moment I can't meditate for 10 minutes without wanting to chew my own leg off. I'm sure it will all be fine. I will either emerge more centered with better control over my mind...or with only one leg.
My friends almost without out exception have laughed when I told them I'm doing this - it is just so not me. The thing is when I signed up for this retreat I was desperate. Had been in a bad slump for months - lots of Japanese bed therapy, barely managing to keep up appearances with coworkers, etc. So my therapist (of course I have a therapist) took advantage my willingness to try just about anything and talked me into this mediation retreat. Actually she wanted me to go on a different retreat - one where they wake you up at 4:55 every morning and beat you with sticks if you squirm too much (just kidding about the sticks...I think). Anyway, we compromised. So on my retreat they wake you up at 7. And I think it's only around 5 hours of mediation instead of 8...I'm really screwed aren't I?
And that's not all of it. In addition to the meditation aspect of it, several other things freak me out. I will be sleeping in a [I]tent[/I] (not happy-making but acceptable) with a [I]stranger[/I] (barely acceptable) and the food will be almost entirely [I]vegetarian [/I](not acceptable!). My therapist, when I expressed my fears to her, said that I should just go with the flow and eat whatever is provided (at which point I started feeling panicked) and then she said that my current energy and sense of well-being have nothing to do with what I'm eating or not eating (at which point I started to cry). That it's all about what's going on my head, that and not drinking (at which point I got mad). She's always going on about the mind-body connection, but it looks like in her conception it's all mind-->body with no body--->mind. So I decided that in this instance I am not taking her advice.
I have now stockpiled:
[LIST][*]6 100 gram dried sausages (free-range organic pork, salt & piment)[*]2 tins of albacore tuna (sustainably fished off the coast of Namibia by one guy it sounds like) packed in organic olive oil[*]2 tins of sardines (sustainably fished "by small local boats off the coast of Portugal") in organic lemon and olive oil[*]3 cans of wild salmon (sustainably fished "in the pristine water of Alaska") packed in brine[*]1 jar of organic coconut oil [*]7 servings of protein powder (whey from grass-fed Amish cows, ground vanilla pod, and stevia leaf)[*]1 100 gram bar of organic 85% dark chocolate[/LIST]
As you may have observed, stress brings out the obsessive control freak in me. Anyway, further suggestions of non-perishable sources of sustenance are welcome. I'm guessing they have the vegetables covered...and there's always my own leg to fall back on.
Surviving meditation bootcamp
It's been nearly a month and a half since my last post, so this is going to be a two parter: Part I on surviving the whole meditation retreat thing, which I feel pretty proud of actually, and Part II on what happened after, which...well, not so much.
But first the good stuff, I spent a week meditating between five to eight hours per day without chewing my leg off! Yeah for me! And it was overall a very positive experience, perhaps not life altering - I suppose that remains to be seen - but positive.
[B]So what is a meditation retreat like?[/B]
You arrive with your suitcase full of canned fish (see previous post), fearing you will find a bunch of new-age/neo-hippie types wearing tie-dye and Indian prints, who, after unwinding themselves from their perfect lotus positions, will sit around discussing chakras and auras and such like while they pick anaemically at their lentils. The reality: you find a bunch of people who are...not that different from you - trying to deal with their own issues, lead a better life, take refuge in something more meaningful than reruns of Law & Order. And yes, some of them may wear tie-dye and Indian prints, but it's OK. You're where you need to be.
7:00 - 8:00 morning sitting
8:00 - 9:00 breakfast
9:30 - 11:30 more sitting
11:30 - 12:30 inspiring talk
12:30 - 1:30 lunch
1:30 - 3:00 chores/free time
3:00 - 7:00 yet more sitting, sometimes broken up by an inspiring talk
7:00 - 8:00 dinner
8:00 - 9:00 meetings in small groups with meditation instructor or even more sitting
11:00 lights out
You spend most of your time sitting. Sitting and sweating in a large tent with several hundred other people. You struggle to find ways to arrange your body so that the blood supply to your extremities is not cut off. You try to form a lotus position - you don't come even close. You try building towers of cushions - you get cramps in your legs trying not to topple over. You try tucking one leg under, then the other, crossing and uncrossing your ankles, placing cushions under yours knees - nothing works.
You are instructed to concentrate on your breathing, recognise your thoughts as they come into your mind, and then let them go. You recognise the thought "I'm hot and my foot's asleep", then you let it go. It comes back. Again and again and AGAIN. Or you drift off into a daydream involving an air-conditioned hotel room in Rio, a bottle of perfectly chilled champagne, and an exceedingly charming capoeira expert (things are just getting really good when they hit the gong for lunch). You think you're doing it wrong, that your mind is possibly broken and incapable of focus, but then you find out this is what happens to everyone and it's OK.
You sneak off during lunch (lentils again!) and hike to the river. The water is so cold it makes you gasp when you wade in. You swim in your underwear. You swim upstream against the current - feeling your muscles begin to loosen up after all the sitting. Then you float on your back, watching the clouds move across the sky, and let the current take you. When your hands are all pruney and your feet are starting to go numb, you climb out. You eat your lunch (canned fish, walnuts, maybe an apple) sitting on the bank. The sun dries everything very quickly. You're already putting back on your clothes by the time the first of your fellow meditators arrive at the edge of the trees. You collect wild blackberries on the way back to camp. They are small and somewhat sour and they make your fingers purple, but you eat them with relish.
You listen to the teachers skeptically at first - one is a reincarnated Tibetan Lama the other is a short Jewish guy from Brooklyn. The Lama says we need meditation because we are out of touch with ourselves, we are out of touch with our society, and we are out of touch with nature. He says when his father first came to the West from Tibet - fleeing the Chinese invasion - he was struck by how much Western people hate themselves (Tibetan people apparently don't hate themselves, they just hate the Chinese). He says you can meditate till the cows come home but unless you can believe that you are basically OK, that it won't do you much good. He says there is something inside of you that is still intact. This makes you cry.
You sleep in a tent - a largish tent with a bed and a set of shelves for your things, but still a tent. It reminds you of camp. Your roommate does not talk incessantly or snore and you are appropriately thankful. You sleep surprisingly well in your tent. It is cooler at night and you are surprisingly tired. By 10:30 you can barely keep your eyes open and many nights you turn off your flashlight before 10.
Some things you learn:
[LIST][*]Meditation hurts, particularly when practised for extended periods of time.[*]Very few people can do a full lotus.[*]When going on a meditation retreat, if you are at all vain or self-conscious, it is advisable to get a pedicure beforehand.[*]Yoghurt with a dollop of tahini makes a surprisingly tasty breakfast.[*]You can sit feeling uncomfortable or sad or downright miserable and not die.[*]If you even think about anything itchy (chiggers, poison ivy, mosquito bites), you will start to itch.[*]If you don't scratch an itch, it will go away by itself.[*]Sitting in silence with other people is oddly comforting.[/LIST]
By the end of the week, you are almost (but not quite) sad to leave. Sitting is getting easier. Your meditation instructor, whom you are a little bit in love with despite the fact that she's a woman and dresses exclusively in Indian prints, helps you adjust your posture so that you do not get cramps or pins and needles or at least you do not get them as often. You have moments, particularly in the morning when it is cool and you're not quite awake, when your mind does not zing around like a junebug on a string. You have moments, just a few, when you feel calm and centered and like you are OK.