For years, I’d wanted to do a long retreat And finally, after months of preparation, I found myself making my single bed in a dorm room behind the meditation hall. The six-week retreat was three times longer than anything I’d done before, so I’d hoped the benefits would be three-fold.
Things did happen of course: short periods of strong concentration; one episode in which sensations came so fast I felt dizzy; and a couple of days of calm. But nothing transcendent. Nothing mind-altering. The daytime skies were a waning blue. At night, I saw the stars, which I could never see in the city.
Packing up to leave, I wondered if I’d gotten an adequate return on my investment, both of time and money. Not that I expected to, but, of course, I did. I made a note to take stock six months later, so here I am at the keyboard.
The red-coated man was waving across Main Street. It took me a moment to realize he was waving at me, and another to remember who he was. When I did, I waved back enthusiastically. It’s been over a decade, I thought. I was running late and didn’t have time to cross the street to say hello. Hopefully my smile conveyed how much his remembering meant to me.
Most meditation books suggest setting aside a specific time each day to meditate—clearly good advice. I meditate every morning. The alarm rings, I get out of bed, drink a cup of coffee, and sit my butt on the cushion. Except on the days when I don’t.
I don’t smoke, but finding the smoking shack on the first day made me smile. After unpacking and making my bed, I explored the grounds of the retreat center. The shack was at the edge of the woods in back of Shanti House. (Yes, the dorms have annoying Sanskrit names.) Almost hidden, the structure looked like a wooden bus stop. Continue reading The Smoking Shack
But is life as it appears in a fly so very different from life as it appears in a human? —Sharon Salzberg
Was I a hypocrite for rescuing the bug? It was a Wednesday, not that that mattered. I was halfway through a six-week retreat and, aside from laundry days, each silent day seemed more or less like the others.
During the morning walking period, I shared the basement with two other yogis. One was a heavyset guy who reminded me of an old boyfriend and the other was a slim guy with a moustache who looked like young Adolf Hitler.
I usually like walking meditation, and though I was trying to practice earnestly, I wasn’t connecting with my steps. My distracted mind was trying to remember all the lyrics to “Muskrat Love,” the wonderfully sappy Captain & Tennille song from 1976. Suddenly, as my left foot was in midair, a blur of movement startled me. A bug scuttled past as my foot fell awkwardly to avoid it. Continue reading What to Let Live: A Meditator’s Guide to Insects
Though I’ve learned a lot from Pema Chödrön over the years, I balked on first reading her instruction to drop the story. In the May 2001 issue of Shambhala Sun she wrote, “In sitting meditation we practice dropping whatever story we are telling ourselves and leaning into the emotions and the fear. Thus we train in opening the fearful heart to the restlessness of our own energy. We learn to abide with the experience of our emotional distress.”Continue reading How Taco Bell Made Me a Better Meditator
Soon, I’ll have to ask my boss if I can take a six-week leave of absence for a meditation retreat. I’m not worried about getting the time off. I’ve accrued enough vacation days. What I’m worried about is how I’ll answer when he asks, “What’s a meditation retreat?” Continue reading Talking to the Boss
You’ve been meditating for a while. Maybe a couple of weeks or several years. There are days when the benefits seem palpable. You don’t react when your brother belittles you just like he did in your sandbox days. When the woman in yellow heels tries to maneuver her cart ahead of yours in the checkout line, you pause, then wave her forward with a smile. She smiles back with what looks like genuine relief. Angry a moment ago, you now feel good, along with, you note, a hint of superiority. A friend you haven’t seen in years remarks how you seem more forthcoming.
Meditation always seems like a good thing to do, except when you’re actually doing it. Then it can seem like a boring, uncomfortable, complete waste of time when there are clearly more important things to do, buy, watch, eat and read.
While “meditating” today, I put together a list of time-tested ways to avoid actually meditating.
My story is like most others. I started to meditate because I was in pain. I was 29 years old and in a relationship that kept me constantly off-balance and unsure of myself. It was a cold New England January. I was depressed, though I didn’t know much about depression at the time and didn’t recognize my own condition. My depression was energetic, rather than lethargic. I felt like I had coffee running through my veins, keeping me awake all hours of the night with only black thoughts for company.