Two weeks ago at this time, I was just settling into a five day silent retreat at Spirit Rock. The evening dharma talk was over, and I was heading back to my room, exhausted, but relieved to be there.
Unlike at the last retreat I did there, there was no initial anxiety about my ability to handle the silence, the frighteningly healthy food, or the shared bathrooms. Even though I only drove 30 minutes to get there, the relief upon arriving was as if I had traveled hours along treacherous roads. I felt like I had come home.
Cocooned in the silence, all those layers of psychic and muscular armor began to fall away. No need for small talk. No need to impress. No need to explain. Safe. Silent.
This time I decided to follow the retreat schedule as laid out by the retreat leaders: starting at 6:30 am, there nine sittings a day, plus five walking meditation sessions. And yes, this Lazy Buddhist was in the meditation hall at 6:30 every morning (OK, OK I did miss one). I even got into the whole walking meditation thing. In fact, I came to really like and appreciate the walking meditation, especially since I struggled with sleepiness during most of my sittings.
Ironically, on the next to last day, I had a meeting with one of the teachers and had reported that my experience had been almost disappointingly stable. I had come to the retreat with an expectation of having “stuff” come up. I was expecting tears. I was almost looking forward to tears. He just smiled and said “you never know, you still have the rest of the day.” Indeed, you never know.
During the post-lunch session, usually the sleepiest of the day, everything changed. I certainly wasn’t sleepy anymore. I can’t say I woke up, but I think I got a glimpse that awakening was indeed possible. I could wake up. Me. It no longer felt like an intellectual concept. And it blew my fucking mind.
On the last day, after they raised the cone of silence and people were allowed to speak again, I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to speak and I didn’t want to leave. A door has been cracked and I wanted to fling it wide open. But, the “real” world was waiting for me. I had bills to pay and creatures to care for, so running off to a cave and meditating for a few years was not in the cards for me.
Going back to work the next day wasn’t too bad. Even though I still felt completely stripped of my emotional armor, I didn’t feel too exposed since I was clothed in my psychic uniform that I wear everyday at the office. But, it was when I was with those nearest and dearest to me that I felt rather raw.
I probably haven’t been the easiest person to be around. I keep wanting to retreat into my beloved silence. And it probably doesn’t feel particularly good to be told by someone you care about that “I’ miss my silent retreat” when all they want to do is to engage you in their holiday traditions. Yes, it probably was selfish of me to do retreat so close to Christmas. This year there is no tree, no decorations, and so far I haven’t even purchased any presents. I really just wanted to skip the whole thing this year. Oh right . . . it’s not all about me, is it?
I’m planning on doing another retreat this Spring. But this time, I’ll give myself plenty of buffer time afterward in order to land properly, and with no major holidays around the corner. In the meantime, however, I’ll put on my big girl panties and try to get into the Christmas spirit.