There for the whole show


For  day or two after leaving Spirit Rock, I find myself sometimes looking at a clock and reminiscing about what I was doing at that time while on retreat. For instance, it’s 7:04 am right now. Yesterday at this time I was walking down the hill to the dining hall for breakfast having  just finished the 6:15 meditation session.

I now find comfort in the regimentation of retreat. This was probably my first one where I went to every single sitting, and did at least some walking during each session of walking meditation. Since I brought neither book nor journal, there was no running back to my room during the walking sessions to record my profound thoughts about how, for instance, I was dead sure Ann Coulter was on this retreat. (Seriously, I was entirely convinced that this very tall, thin, rather hard looking blond woman was Ann Coulter infiltrating our blessed retreat just so that she could make fun of us on FOX News. As it turns out, she was not Ann Coulter, but a very nice woman named Diane. And while I understand she can’t do much about her build and general features, I would advise her to do away with the straight blond hair if she wants to stop frightening gentle souls and woodland creatures.)

There two events that occurred while on my retreat that ended up hijacking all my hopes for a blissed-out few days (which, yes, I realize is not the point, but let’s face it, no one goes into a retreat hoping to see how fucked up their mind really is. While your teacher may be pleased about your insight into your obsessive monkey-on-a-mixture-of-alcohol-meth-and-prescription-drugs mind, it doesn’t always make for a pleasant experience.)

The first event happened right out of the gate. On the first morning, I came back to my room after breakfast to find my phone blowing up with text messages. This was surprising on two fronts: first, I’ve never had any connectivity before up at Spirit Rock. It has been one of the rare times I am grateful for AT&T’s shitty service. But, apparently that has improved, therefore the texts; second the texts were all wondering if I was OK and how was the weather in Scotland.  Finally, it became clear – my Gmail account had been hacked. A message went out to everyone I have ever emailed in the last 8 years saying something to the effect that I was stranded in Scotland after having been robbed at gunpoint – please send money.

I went to the manager’s office to plead to be able to use their computers to change my passwords on not only my email, but some of my other accounts. After a quick chastisement from one of the retreat managers about having phone turned on, she let use one of their computers to go in and stave off any further damage.  As far as I could see, they had only messed with my email account despite my being a very bad bad internet user and having the same password on multiple accounts.

So, having done all I could do to secure my accounts, that should have been the end of it, right? But, noooooooooo. When you’re sitting silently for over 5 hours a day, your mind has the opportunity to really make up some totally mad shit, and then rehash that over and over and over . . .  Plus, the texts kept coming in: my brother contacted the FBI; a friend of mine played with the hackers and agreed to send them the money, all the while bcc’ing the Edinburgh police in hopes they might nab them while picking up the imaginary transfer at the Western Union office; and someone asked me to pick up a kilt for them. But, when I realized I was just getting hooked into the amusement and drama, I decided to give my phone to the manager to hold on to for the duration of the retreat. It was time to let go.

My head settled down a bit for about a day, but then another drama decided to take my mind for a joyride. My “yogi job” (a daily chore all retreatants do) this time was dinner prep, which is mostly chopping vegetables. That should be nice and meditative right? Unlike my preferred yogi job of housekeeping, which is an individual task, supper prep is a group event.  There were five of us chopping veggies, scooping dough, or squeezing prunes (I never want to touch another prune in my life).  On day three, one of my co-yogis was watching me as if she was waiting for me to spit on the food or something. At one point, she went in to talk to one of the cooks, who then also came out to look at me.

Oh lordy lordy me, paranoia will destroya, ya know? My mind started to go ape shit. I was already extremely uncomfortable doing the task. Standing for long periods over a cutting board does a number on my back, which was already feeling challenged from the long periods of sitting, which was probably exacerbated from a sleep deficit. For the next 24 or so hours, my mind spun out over my imagined infraction mixed with back pain. And thanks to the joys of mindfulness, I was there for the whole show.  Great. Fucking great.

By the end of this short retreat however, I was weepy that it was over, and was fomenting some long-term plans to one day sit a three-month retreat.  Despite, the physical and psychological pain these retreats sometimes bring up, I know, on a deep level, this is what I need to be doing.


7 responses »

  1. I think the kitchen crew was amazed at your prune squeezing ability and just wanted to borrow your technique. Any animosity may have been caused by jealousy. Pity the poor prune plucker’s.

  2. I was glad you had your phone if only to deal with the Scotland scam. Sorry the experience didn’t turn out as you had hoped but it sounds like you had some benefit despite the challenges. I’m considering a weekend retreat at a nearby Jesuit monastery where they also conduct 12 Step workshops along with meditation and spiritual guidance. (I just have to stop working 7 days a week and make self care a priority.)

  3. I got that email but I remembered having read that you were going dark from reading and writing while on retreat so I knew someone had hacked your account. I deleted it. It sounds like you have some interesting friends (playing along with the hacker and bcc’ing emails to the Edinburgh police?). I’m impressed.

  4. @themeanderingmushroomman – I did not include any hallucinogenics because that imply the monkey was possibly having fun. No, this was vipassana. Leave the shrooms for concentration.

    @carol – yes, perhaps that was it. But considering the next day this same woman was recutting some of my cut carrots, I think it was more a matter that she felt I was doing it wrong and was looking for some validation. And really, is there a right way to squeeze a prune? It’s such a personal and intimate act that everyone must simply find their own way with.

    @Norm – I was grateful for the presence of my phone also. I tend to hoard emails, so given enough time they could have mined and gotten access to more of my life. I was chagrined that one of the teachers was aware of it since he got one of the emails too, and had decided not to tell me about it. And while I appreciate the impulse to protect my retreat, my identity is kinda important in the “real world”, ya know. And yes, do retreat. You owe it to yourself.

    @Corina – I was rather impressed with the reaction too, especially that my brother attempted to contact me to make sure I was OK. Later, when I heard the actual tone of his voice, I couldn’t tell if he was annoyed or concerned, but seeing that he had attempted to reach me was rather sweet.

  5. Years ago I corresponded very briefly with the SF Chronicle’s movie reviewer, Mick LaSalle, about film noir and who did the best Philip Marlowe. (I posted his note.) Within a year, I got an email from “Mick” in Edinburough, having been robbed and desperate for me to wire him money to get home. I forwarded it to some of his coworkers at the Chronicle and never heard another word about it. But as he has still reviewing and posting his most-amusing column in the Chronicle, I’m sure he’s quite safe. *smile* Your retreat post is good reading, LB!

  6. I used to think retreats were good for everyone. Now I suspect that they’re better for some people than for others. I’m practically a recluse, so a retreat is really not as painful for me as it might be. Let’s be honest, if you have a strong introversion, you’re at least going to recharge on a retreat. But what if you’re extroverted? What if your dynamic is different? Are retreats long or short the universal answer to getting your shit sorted? I’m starting to think not, actually.

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