Excerpts from my retreat journal

Standard

We were warned at the end of our retreat to not try and come to any conclusions about it until about a week or two after the retreat ended.  Fair enough.  There is a sense that things are still being processed in my head, in my heart.  However, after fussing about on this blog about all my fear and trepidation (or as my friend Annie called it, “living in the wreckage of the future”) about my impending week-long silent meditation retreat at Spirit Rock I figured I should post something to let you know I survived.

At first I was going to write out the entire daily schedule – all eight sitting meditation and five walking meditation sessions – but then I realized that you may get the impression that I am not truly a lazy Buddhist, and would insist I change my moniker. But, be assured, my laziness is still quite intact.  While others were hauling their asses to the cushion at 6:30 in the morning, my lazy ass was still in bed.  My day started at 8:45 am which, in my mind, was an entirely reasonable time.

So, here are some daily notes from the journal I was keeping during my retreat.  Enjoy.

Sunday evening:

  • All my worst fears seemed to be coming true.  After parking my car and putting my luggage in a truck, I am instructed to hike the 1/2 mile uphill to check in.  Why can they give my luggage a ride and I have to walk?  I arrive sweaty, cranky and reaching for my asthma inhaler
  • My relief knows no bounds when I discover that I have a single room.  Also relieved to see that the shared bathrooms in no way resemble that of the high school locker room of my nightmares
  • As we (the 70 or so retreatants) left our first session in silence, a beautiful full moon was rising over the San Geronimo valley.  Many of us stopped for a minute or so and just took it in, and then moved on.

Monday:

  • I HATE walking meditation!! I’m incapable of slowing my walking down to a crawl without toppling over.  Instead of moving slowly and serenely, I pace impatiently and mutter how stupid this practice is.
  • People who annoy me (thus far):  the old dude who sits behind me and breaths loudly; the angry-looking Asian guy who has way too many cushions, yet still can’t sit still; cushion hoarders in general – I just needed a couple of the small knee cushions for my back, yet they are all gone because some people have four or more of them; yoga chicks.
  • I think the teacher and I have a different definition of the word “feast”.  Tofu, kale and green salad does not a feast make.
  • Slept much of the day.  Missed all of the afternoon sessions.  Entirely expected.

Tuesday:

  • Per Mark’s (one of the retreat leaders) instructions, I have given up trying to do the more traditional version of the walking meditation.  He basically said it was OK to just take a walk, but to slow down and do it mindfully.  That I can do.
  • Not feeling quite as judgmental of my co-retreatants, however, the yoga chicks are still bugging me.  Yes, we all know you have a slammin’ body so it’s really not necessary to wear your form fitting stretchy yoga pants every damn day.
  • Like everyone else, I’ve become a slave to the bell.  When the large bell is rung calling us to meditation hall for a sitting, everyone slowly emerges from wherever they were hiding or doing their walking meditation. We walk slowly and deliberately, as if walking were new to us. But to the world we probably just look like very well-preserved upper-middle class zombies.
  • I’ve been pretty happy with my focus during the sitting meditations.

Wednesday:

  • With everyone eating so slowly and methodically in the dining room it almost looks like it could be an eating disorders clinic with everyone being taught to taste their food, chew thoroughly and put their forks down between each bite. Some eat with their eyes closed.  The rest find ways to eat without being caught looking at others.  And still others steal glimpses at the serving line to see if there will be enough for seconds.
  • I find the lack of joy particularly evident today.  Some people are really struggling with their bodies and some look like the battlefield is in their mind.  Me, I’ve been feeling some resistance this morning, but mostly I’ve been unfocused, dull. Lots of dreamlike appearances during meditation. I’m blaming the Benedryl.
  • After both lunch and dinner on my way back up the hill, I stop and sit on the bench in front of the stone Buddha statue. He is good company. But, today I am filled with doubts and I want him to give me answers.  I feel like my NKT past is coming to haunt me.  Which is the right path?  The miniature sock monkey in the crook of Buddha’s arm mocks my question.
  • Finally, we are offered a dessert treat with our dinner (or any meal for that matter) – a chocolate cookie.  I love the woman who instead of taking the cookie and waiting to savor it after dinner with a nice cup of tea, quickly grabbed a cookie and voraciously took a bite of it before she even got out of the serving line.
  • These days are incredibly long.
  • The last session of the day was so lovely.  It is dark outside and they turned out all of the overhead lights in the meditation hall leaving only the gentle lighting of the wall sconces.  You could feel the group’s vulnerability and fragility, yet the darkness enveloped us all like a warm beloved blanket.  As the session ended I felt this tremendous warmth in my heart – it was a distinct physical sensation in the middle of my chest. At first it scared me, yet as I sat with it I realized it was more an opening of the heart as I felt a tremendous sense of caring for everyone one in the room, including the annoying ones.

Thursday:

  • Feeling a lot more at ease today.
  • I can’t help but be fascinated by the yoga chick who appears to eat nothing but green salad.  Where does this girl get her protein?
  • As I watch the handless woman wipe down the dining room tables, I am struck at first at the irony of her work assignment, and then admiration as her lack of hands does not seem to be much of a disability for her. Amazing how humans can adapt when they don’t fall into the trap of self-pity and despair.
  • I have become incredibly fond of the two people who share the dinnertime dishwashing duties with me and I don’t even know their names.
  • This place is starting to work its magic on me.  There is so much contentment in standing still and taking it all in – the landscape, the creatures, the sounds and the sky.
  • I don’t need to judge others out of my own insecurity, or impress others with how smart or devoted I am.  To do so is a trap.  I am enough.

Friday:

  • For the first time on this retreat, I spent an entire walking meditation session actually walking, and walking slowly (rather than head back to my room to write or go back into the meditation hall and do sitting meditation). I found an easy trail and walked slowly and mindfully. It felt good. For the first time in a long time I felt fully embodied.  For way too long  I have been living mostly in my head.
  • Even though I should have been mindfully eating my lunch, my mind kept wandering and wondering who are these people? What is their story? What brings them here?  I mean, honestly, paying good money to spend a week in silence and put yourself through mental and physical torture is kind of crazy.
  • I already feel the pull of going back to the “real” world.  Thinking about food.  Yes, some good old fashioned heavy, cheesy Mexican food sounds good.  Or maybe vegging out in front of the TV with a bowl of pasta.  And yes, I also want to make changes for the better – get some good walking shoes, look into more classes, retreats about being present, because, well, I am so not present right now.
  • I had an almost magical afternoon.  My 2:30 sitting was so peaceful and concentrated that I didn’t want to stop. So while others were doing yoga I sat outside and continued meditating for another half hour or so. I felt so stable, so strong. I pictured myself like my friend the stone Buddha – still and ready to weather all storms. Granted, I was feeling this when the conditions were pretty awesome – warm sun, gentle breeze, and “real” life not even a whisper in my mind. But, still, it was a lovely taste of liberation. Afterward, I went for a walk along my new favorite walking path, but this time I decided to go farther. To my delight there was a little grotto w/ various statues – Buddha, Kwan Yin, some goddess, and a very, er, expressionistic version of I think St. Francis.  People had left offerings of remembrances of loved ones – pictures, letters, and most touching, a pair of brass baby shoes.   There was evidence of so much love, and also so much sadness.  I sat with both for a while.

Saturday:

  • While I am ready to go home, there is sadness. At the beginning of the first session, I started tearing up. Sadness, sadness. Couldn’t quite place what it was all about. Teared up again when Mark was talking about the importance of sangha in our lives. Despite how dysfunctional it was, I do sometimes miss the sense of community I had within the NKT.
  • Even though a part of me wants to fly out of here as quickly as possible tomorrow, I offered to give someone a ride home tomorrow.  I don’t know who this person is yet – I only know faces, not names – but knowing my karma it is probably one of the yoga chicks whom I have been judging so harshly (but really now, seriously, didn’t you pack any other kinds of pants?  Your butts are hella cute, but really, I don’t need that much detail.)
  • I’m going to miss the silence.
  • Image: 6-10 people standing stock still watching with delight as a 4 ft long snake made it ways up the hill along side a path.  To an outsider, it may appear we are all stoned on acid.  I mean, I was petting a tree the other day for godsake.  How stoned is that?
  • The silence has been broken.  We are lead in a form exercise where we partnered up and one person listened while the other one spoke.  You know, just go to get the hang of the whole conversing thing again.  My partner, a young woman named Jess, and I upon looking at each both broke down in tears.  Jess spent most of her speaking turn crying, and most of my listening was done simply rubbing her back gently. She was able to get out how she was mourning how she was going to miss feeling so open-hearted and tender, and how she knew from experience, the feeling quickly disappears once we get back to “real” life.  Me, I have no idea why I was crying.
  • Howie (another of the retreat leaders) strikes me as one big giant heart and I’ve become quite fond of his teachings.
  • So, I guess I wasn’t the only one having fantasies of ringing the bell for no damn reason except to watch people’s Pavlovian response.
  • People are beaming. Even one of the yoga chicks about whom I had some pretty harsh thoughts gave me the loveliest of smiles today.

Sunday morning:

  • I actually got to the 6:30 am sitting today.  Since it was the only formal sitting I figured I would make it.  Besides, I was also curious about what kind of breakfasts I had been missing.  If this was typical, I wasn’t missing much.  I had made a wise choice to bring my own fruit and energy bars.
  • So, this is it. The end. I have cleaned my room, my suitcase is back on the truck, and people are free to speak.  Conversations are quickly turning very normal – the lives and jobs people are going home to.  Yet, I can’t help but to continue to listen to the pervasive birdsongs and feel the gentle fog-tinged breeze.  I will miss this place.
  • On my way down to my car, I stop and say thank you and good bye to the stone Buddha.  And I wish a fond farewell to his little sock monkey too.  Until next time.
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14 responses »

  1. “There was evidence of so much love, and also so much sadness. I sat with both for a while.”

    worth the price of admission rite there

  2. Thanks for writing this…I have been waiting all week to learn how it went for you. I’ve been to several daylongs at Spirit Rock, and also struggle with walking meditation. I always cheat. One time the wild turkeys came out while we were walking and I couldn’t stop laughing. I’ve wondered if I were serious enough for the multi-day retreat…because even the daylongs are tough.

    Sounds like the experience was good and worthwhile. So thanks again for having the experience for me.
    Peace.

    kim

  3. It sounds like you might go to another one of these retreats!

    So who did you have to give a ride to. Were you right about one of the yoga chicks? Inquiring minds want to know.

  4. Hi Lazy,
    It was really beautiful to read your journal notes, thank you for sharing this prescious time with us.
    You know since leaving the NKT, I have been to 2 diffferent centres. I think I am unconsciously hoping to recreate that sense of community with the sangha also, but in a place with integrity. So far Vipassana has really resonated with me so I am off to try a third tradition!

  5. I doff my hat to you, respectfully. I wouldn’t survive 5 minutes a) in silence b) with cushion hoggers c) on tofu and kale ‘feasts’.

    🙂

  6. I really enjoyed reading this. Thank you for sharing your notes with us.

    I’m glad to hear it went so well for you and that none of your fears were realized (except that first walk up the hill).

    Was it one of the yoga chicks? I’m curious too.

  7. trmink – Thank you for your kind attention.

    BBG – well, maybe not the whole price of admission. But throw in all the creatures and the mini sock monkey, I’d say I got my money’s worth.

    Kim – You’re welcome. And you’d be surprised what you’re capable of in terms of doing retreat. Trust me, I was going to give myself 3 days, and if I didn’t like it after that, I was going home. But, there is a lot that keeps you going. And its helpful to have a sense of humor.

    tpgoddess – thank you. 🙂

    Corina – Yes, I would definitely go back. Absolutely. And no, it wasn’t a yoga chick that I ended up giving a ride to. Rather it was a lovely woman originally from Columbia closer to my age than any of the yoga chicks. It was really nice to have someone to talk to while I made that initial transition into the “real” world.

    Nik – I’m still searching for sangha also. Spirit Rock is a really big place, so it’s hard to develop a sense of family there. I may try the SF Vipassana group, though I hear that is pretty large too. Eventually, I hope to once again find a place that feels like home. Good luck with your quest.

    woo – Fortunately the food did get a bit better than that first day – though the whole time it was always insanely healthy. My first meal when I got home? An ooey gooey heavy cheese enchiladas from my favorite Mexican joint. Hmmm. Cheesy. And not a whole green in sight.

    Robin – Getting past this first retreat and all my fears was a big step. Now that I know what to expect in terms of comfort (or lack of) and routine, I think I’ll be fine.

  8. I’m a little slow in commenting but I was glad for you when I read this a couple of days ago. I had been curious as to how things were going while you were away.
    Thanks for sharing your experience and your perceptions of it.

  9. I enjoyed this, too. I hate to admit it, but especially your little annoyances. I guess because they ran so counter to the serene “stereotypes” I had imagined you would be experiencing.

    Like petting the tree. Altho, if you were to mutter about the yoga chicks as you pet the tree, I’d hafta go all LOL.

    But seriously, it sounds wonderful and also cool you’ve been contacted about publishing it. 🙂

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