Comfortably Numb

Aug 31, 11 Comfortably Numb

In order to continue to tell my tale about driving on Route 66, I need to finish telling my tale about the meditation retreat I went on 5 short (long!) months ago. I’m finding that recurring themes are popping up in my life left and right, as if the universe is finally hammering home some important ideas now that I’m taking the time to sit still and listen.

During the last week of silent meditation (12 hours a day, let me remind you!) we were instructed to scan our bodies for any kind of feeling while we meditated. First we learned to scan just our skin, and feel each tickle/itch/hot/cold/breath on our surface. Then we learned to pull our attention deeper into ourselves, and kind of do a CAT scan of our entire 3D body. I put aside any skepticism that this was even possible and drew my attention into my body to try to feel what was happening.

What I felt sickened me.

Or, rather, what I didn’t feel.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Going in to this retreat I was struggling with the effects of years and years of denying what was important to me in favor of what was important to others. I had become a martyr, and played the part of a victim for a long long time without even realizing it. If I thought no but someone else thought yes, then I would ignore my self and do whatever. I placed my own needs second after meeting other people’s needs. I ignored my own wants to make sure other people were happy. And then one day I woke up feeling like I was suffocating in my dream and I realized that I was suffocating in my life. I hadn’t carved out a space for myself, I hadn’t set up boundaries to protect what was important to me from being crushed by things that were important to other people.

The growing pains that then set in were pretty overwhelmingly life changing. Too daunting to want to face, but too big to ignore anymore. I can’t even point out one specific post about this, pretty much the entire “Momsanity” category was created for me to vent and explore the concept of “self” within the context of motherhood, wifehood, friendship, and family.

It wasn’t until the retreat that I realized first hand what my chronic inability to protect my authentic self meant.

As I was poking around on the outside and inside of my body, I realized that I couldn’t feel anything. Not my breath as it crossed over my lip. Not a twinge or twitch, unless it was really big and painful. I started putting Burt’s Bees lip balm under my nose because it would give it a minty burn and I could at least feel THAT. This numbness was disconcerting, but it got worse when I tried to go deeper.

I pushed my consciousness into my self, my core. And I felt….something…but not anything thriving and alive. I felt myself, and I was mostly dead in there. Like, gangrenous and spongey. I don’t know how else to describe it. If it were a color, it would have been oatmeal blah. The teacher was describing this flow of energy we may feel, even partially in one little part of ourselves or completely as one big rush. But all I felt was mostly dead. Pulled apart. Disconnected. It’s not pretty.

strung out.

I finally realized what the cost of an inauthentic life is. The loss of self. I think that’s why I’m so big on authenticity now…in myself, my kids, the people around me….because the alternative is this empty shell of a person who is in no condition to give the things that they really are trying to give. First we have to make a strong, honest, self built on integrity to our core principles. Then we can give and give and give to others without it sucking the life out of us!

If you are feeling beat down, sucked dry, confused, angry, sad, depressed, melancholy, looking for an escape, desperate for a break…my diagnosis is that you need to tap back in to who you are and what you need. My prescription is a little “you time” to do this.

I know, I know, society tells us that “me time” is selfish and not important. Especially if you have to take care of kids, jobs, friends, important relationships, etc. I’m not suggesting you ignore any of that. But I am suggesting that if you are martyring yourself to make any of those things happy, then you are preventing yourself from ultimately being any good to any one. If you’re sucked dry, there won’t be anything left to give.

So.

Put yourself at the top of the list of priorities.
Take that community college class on beekeeping that you want to.
Learn to hula hoop from a funky group in town.
Start painting again.
Get a pedicure once a month.
Cook a meal because you like it.
Go to the gym and hang out in the sauna.
Get up in the morning and run for 30 minutes.
Decide how much time you want to give other people’s projects during your day and then say no to all the rest.
Start having a mom’s night out.
Go to bed early so you can read a book.
Do whatever it is you’ve been dreaming about.
Say yes to yourself.

Oh. And. Start now, beyotches!


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Enlightenment By Brownie.

Apr 04, 11 Enlightenment By Brownie.

Yes, I mean brownies. Those delicious squares of chocolatey goodness, made even better with additions such as chocolate chips, andes mints, chocolate ganache on top, peanut butter cups in the middle…brownies!!!!

Say it with me:
BROWNIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEES!

I had a lot of time to think about brownies while I was at the meditation retreat. 11 days total, and at no time did they serve anything with refined sugar or chocolate in it. The food was good, don’t get me wrong. Or, at least, it was as good as anything can be without refined sugar or chocolate in it.

The first couple days I managed alright. But the longer the retreat went on, the more desperate I became dealing with my inner voices, which led to a deep deep craving for things I rely on to comfort me. Things like brownies and sugar cereal. They did provide lots of tea, and I discovered that if you add enough turbinado sugar to Lemon Zinger tea, it tastes like Fruit Loops!

But there was no substitution for chocolate. By the 5th day, I would have done anything for a brownie. My thoughts obsessively lingered over every brownie memory I’d ever stored in my brain. Every meal I would get my serving of tasty vegetarian food and look at it, wishing it were brownies. I dreamed of them. Over the next few days, my mental control rapidly declined and all I could focus on was when I could eat my next brownie. As with most everything, I discovered that at the retreat every little thing about yourself becomes magnified 1000% in the calm silence.

The same time I was fighting with my brownie craving, I was being taught about the misery cycle. The cycle that every human being is caught in, according to the Buddhist principles we were learning. Misery can be summed up not only in one sentence (attachment leads to misery) but also in 3 ideas; ignorance, craving, and aversion.

Ignorance as in, if we are clueless about how our minds are reacting to events, then we are powerless to understand why we continue to run around stuck in misery. Craving as in, we enjoy the good things in our lives so much that we begin to crave them and are unhappy when they are no longer ours to enjoy or experience. Aversion as in, we find the bad things in our lives so terrible that we begin to avoid or run away from them.

To continue my oversimplification but concise overview of enlightenment (enlightenment being the ability to leave the cycle of misery and break away from the reincarnated consciousness of this life)…whenever we react with craving, aversion, or ignorance, we create sankaras deep in our unconscious. These sankaras work to poison our happiness, and filter the reality of life through a rather distorted lens. The focus of Vipassana meditation is not only to create peace and happiness on a surface level, but to dig deep to the roots of all our unhappiness (these sankaras) and pull them out from a subconscious level. That’s the point of it, in a nutshell.

But what does that have to do with brownies?!

The 6th day we heard a lot about cravings and attachment. The whole time the word ‘craving’ was spoken, a mental image of a brownie popped into my mind. I could practically smell it, it seemed so real. If Buddhism was seriously expecting me to become enlightened by turning my mad brownie love into nothing…no love, no craving, no joy, no attachment…well, I was doomed to an eternity of reincarnation.

If brownies were a dude, it would be the most epic love story in the world…woman denies enlightenment for thousands and thousands of years just to be with the one she loves, craves, has to have…

At the end of a meditation session, I approached the assistant teacher for clarification.

“I don’t understand sankara. Does all love and happiness create sankara? How can we live in the world without feeling those things?”

The assistant teacher replied.

“You are not expected to go through life without feeling. Experience life! Enjoy it! Embrace it! Sankarras are not created through feeling your life’s experiences, either good or bad.”

Still confused, I asked again:

“When does the love for something, the joy and appreciation of something, become a sankara?”

He nodded. “Sankara are created when what you feel becomes how you act.”

Still confused, I confessed:

“I’m really struggling. I’m so unhappy because of something so wonderful. So how is my love turning into something so frustrating…when does it become a sankara?”

He probed, “What is it you love?”

“Brownies.”

He paused, wondering if he heard me correctly. “I’m sorry?”

“Brownies. I’m desperate for brownies! Am I to never love them again?! Is it bad that I think about them? Are they keeping me from enlightenment?!”

I started crying at the seriousness behind the words, at the idea of everything the brownies stood for, at my inability to leave misery behind. I started laughing, too, at the ridiculousness of my example. He laughed with me, which is a weird sound to hear filling up a meditation hall with quiet people in it.

He was game. “OK, these brownies. The love for them doesn’t keep you unenlightened. But what you do because of your love for them will.

He asked me a series of questions.

“You see a plate of brownies, but they are dropped on the ground and become too dirty to eat. What do you do and feel?”

“You come close to some brownies, but when you get there another woman has taken the last one. What do you do and feel?”

“You’re thinking of some brownies and someone gives you a plate of vegetables. What do you do and feel?”

My answers:

“I cry and yell at whoever dropped the freaking brownies. I feel depressed and upset about not being able to eat them!”

“I punch her in the face and feel jealous and angry! How dare she take the last brownie, it was supposed to be mine!”

“I compare the veggies with the idea of the brownies and get upset. I’m not satisfied with what I have because it’s not what I want!”

His reply:

“That’s how you create a sankara…not that you love the brownies, but that you are so attached to them your world stops when you don’t get them.”

“Another sankara. Harming someone? Anger? When love becomes craving over everything else–decency, humility, compassion, selflessness–that is deep deep sankara.”

“Sankara! Created when what we really have is wished away for something that we want more. You can spend your life wanting something else, but happiness comes from accepting what really is. To throw that away because of craving or aversion is a deep deep sankara.”

I thanked him and walked away deep in thought. I’m still thinking about it.

I think, based on what I learned there, I am a long way from enlightenment. Not just because of the brownies, but for everything they represent. For all the ways I react to all the “brownies” in my life.

craving? check.
aversion? check.
posessiveness? check!
passion? check!
anger? check!
denial? check!

and the list goes on and on.

My benchmark for how close I am to enlightenment will be measured on a scale of brownie. Can I ever get to a place where I enjoy them, but am also alright if they aren’t mine to enjoy? Can I love them, but not be jealous if I don’t have any and someone else does? Can I want some, but still be OK with what I actually have? Can I think of them without letting my passion for them drive out all humanity and compassion? Can I have one without thinking of it as my possession and being selfish with it?

I know I have a long way to go, because the first thing I did when I got out of the retreat was go with another retreat goer to a local restaurant/bar, where (at 8 in the morning) I ordered the biggest brownie I’ve ever seen. And if the waitress would have dropped that baby on the ground before I had a chance to eat it, I would have cried and yelled and raged like the crazy person that I am. Luckily, it made it to my table in one piece.

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What are the brownies in your life? How do you handle them?

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Laughing At The Sky

Mar 30, 11 Laughing At The Sky

I bet Buddha talked with spiders. I do! I bet, sitting under the Bodhi tree all by himself, he talked to lots of things. At least, I hope he did, because I found myself reaching out and talking to everything while I was at the meditation retreat. Not talking as in using actual words, because I was very careful to maintain noble silence, but more like mentally communicating.

There was a brief respite in the middle of the 10 days of meditation, in between the first 4 days of mentally wrestling with myself and anapana meditation and the last 5 days of mentally wrestling with myself and ‘strong determination’ meditation. They told us every day what day we were on, but other than that I was in a state of timelessness. There were only 3 things I did there: eat, sleep, meditate. Without anything else to worry about, it was easy to slip into a very unfocused state of being.

One morning, while out for my usual stroll after 3 hours of meditating and an hour of eating oatmeal, I noticed that the fog blanketing the ground had frozen and made crystal necklaces out of all the spiderwebs in the meadow. I noticed this because ever since my dance party with myself, I felt much more inwardly calm and aware. Much more present in the moment.

I sat on a bench, watching the crystal necklaces turn into dewdrop prisms as the sun came up. This was one of the only days that we saw the sun, and the warmth felt amazing. In fact, more than amazing. Without my mind wandering into the past or future, I felt everything acutely in the present…more than I ever had in my life. The sun felt sublime. The hundreds of glittering spiderwebs looked divine. The more I focused on noticing these little gifts, and how they made me feel different sensations in my body, the more I noticed other little things.

I noticed the call of the birds on the wind. Not just ‘bird calls’, but how each warble belonged to each individual bird. I heard the scurry of little animals hiding in the meadow. I listened to frogs hop around in a pond. Feeling the sun on my face, I wanted to feel more of the warmth on my body so I opened my meditation blanket and spread it out on the bench so I could lay down.

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While laying down and basking in the sun, I wondered what I’d feel if I looked at the dew filled meadow upside down, so I scooted my body over and reclined so my lower body was supported by the bench and my upper body was waterfalling towards the ground. My eyes were at ground level, and while checking out the meadow I looked over at the bench leg and noticed a little spider crawling up.

Spiders and I don’t really vibe well, so I had a little moment of panic. My first response was to flick it away, but I’d promised not to harm or hurt another creature, so I just watched it. It slowly, slowly made its way up the bench. It was small, about the size of the tip of my pinky, so it really took a lot of effort. The more I watched its slow climb, the more I respected it.

“You’re a really determined spider.” I thought. “I bet you’re pretty handsome, as far as spiders go. I bet I’d think you were cute if I were a lady spider!” I pictured myself as a tiny spider, going out on a tiny spider date, navigating through the world that was now jumbo sized.

“Hey spider. If you ever make it up to the top, you’re welcome to share my blanket with me. I don’t usually share my space with spiders, but this is different somehow. I feel connected, you know? Is that crazy? Probably, I mean, you don’t even know I’m here, or human, or not a tree. But here we are, sharing this tiny little space in the middle of this great big universe, and I’d be honored to spend a little more time with you if you manage to make it up that far.”

I left the spider to continue on his spider way and shifted my still upside down focus to a fat slow caterpillar burrowing through the thick grass. It also was a determined little fella. I sat back upright, keeping my gaze on this newest development. It was yellow and black, with the hairy spikes that make caterpillars so amazingly chubby and cute.

I started wondering if caterpillars make any noise as they caterpillar through grass.

I looked around. Looked up at the sky. Looked down at my blanket. Thought for a second.

“Well, there’s only one way to find out if you make any noise, little caterpillar. So here I go.”

I got down on my hands and knees.

I bent over so that my ear was half an inch above it.

I became very still, and focused very hard to see if I could hear any caterpillar noises.

It didn’t take long before I heard it. A soft little ‘crunch crunch crunch’ and ‘swoosh swoosh swoosh’ of a tiny caterpillar body pushing it’s way through each individual piece of grass.

This sound made me delirously happy. It’s like I’d landed at the North Pole after a hard expedition. It’s very rare, as an adult, that we make a totally new discovery, or think a totally new thought. But finding out that caterpillars do make noise was one of those new things. Also one of those new things: the caterpillar had a crown of dew drops strung across her sweet little caterpillar head. And also?! She had another very small spider on her back. I wondered what THAT spider had on its back, and what was on the back of THAT microscopic thing. I sat back on my heels and laughed at the sky. “What a glorious world we live in, eh frogs? And spiders! And birds! And caterpillars!”

I sat back on the bench and felt the sun on my face again. I got lost in the sensation of it, in that moment it was all I knew and felt and thought about. Until I looked down at the bench and saw my spider friend, who had made it to the top. I skooched over and literally patted the spot beside me on the meditation blanket.

“The invitation still stands, you cute little spider you! Come sit a while!”

Damn if that little spider didn’t spider on over and chill beside me. We sat and vibed together, sending peace and love to the universe. At least, I did. I’m not sure what spider was doing.

Eventually, it spidered away and I was alone again.

Alone and happy.

More than that.

Alone and content. Something I rarely am. Content. Not wanting for anything, wishing for more, or unhappy with what I had. In that moment, I was filled up with everything I could ever need.

It was beautiful.

The meditation gong sounded, so I gathered up my meditation blanket and shuffled slowly back to the meditation hall.

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Fear And Loathing In Washington…

Mar 25, 11 Fear And Loathing In Washington…

You might think…what with all the internal dialogue, memory loops, and dancing in my head that I was doing the first 3 days of the meditation retreat, that I wouldn’t be able to do or think much else. And you would be wrong, as I found out.

If the human heart has the unlimited ability to love, then I found it’s also true that the human mind has an unlimited ability to fear and loathe.

This is the thing I have been processing, the thing that I’ve been hesitant to speak about, the thing that haunted me daily and nightly for the entire retreat. I thought I would go be by myself, in the peace and quiet of the woods of Washington, and find the peace and quiet inside me. It didn’t really turn out that way. Having nothing but my thoughts be my constant companions made me very conscious of the fact that any peace and quiet that might be inside me is drowned out by something else…self doubt, fear, and yes, loathing. And the thing is, I had no idea I harbored any of those things.

I’m confident! Joyful! Curious! I love a good challenge and feel up to any task! I’m freeplaylife, for goodness sakes!!!!

So…

what.
the.
hell?!?!

I can’t explain it. I don’t know where it came from. But I couldn’t ignore them, all those feelings. There were no other distractions to get in the way. Here’s what would happen:

*I’d sit down to eat my breakfast/lunch/dinner. The person beside me would get up and walk away. I would immediately think, “They don’t want to sit next to me, I’ve done something to offend them or something.” And then I’d be upset the rest of the meal.
*I’d be walking behind someone, and they’d let the door close behind them instead of holding it open for me. I would immediately think, “They are being so mean to me!”
*I’d pass by my roommate/another girl and she wouldn’t look me in the eye. I would immediately think, “She totally hates me.” (It must be pointed out, we weren’t supposed to look anyone in the eye! But that’s the level of self loathing that would come out.)
*Someone would make any kind of sniffing noise behind me, and I would immediately wonder if I smelled bad or had done something to make them react that way.

So, at the same time that I was battling with myself, I was also battling with my inner monsters. I wasn’t the only one…even though we couldn’t speak, I noticed that 3 women dropped out in the first 3 days. I also noticed that the sign up sheet to talk to the assistant teacher filled up faster and more with every day. The first day only 2 of us went in, by day 4 the list had grown to 12. In his taped nightly discources, S.N. Goenka warned that the second day and the sixth day were the hardest, but not to give up but continue to work diligently.

So I struggled to work diligently, focusing on my breath and my meditation, trying to stay present with my thoughts and tame my out of control mind. And then Mr. Goenka said something in one of the nightly discourses that clicked. He told a story (he ended up being quite a stand up comedian, actually!) about an artist who created a beautiful portrait of an image in his imagination. He then fell madly in love with it…gave it presents and talked to it and told all his friends about how he would never be apart from it ever. “This is madness, right? You would think he was mad!” Mr. Goenka said. “Imagine he then painted a picture, and then became scared of it. He screamed every time he saw it, and told all his friends how frightened he was, and that they should take it away, that it was going to eat him…You would say HE was mad as well. It’s madness that would lead a man to love or fear something that wasn’t real!” Then he pointed out that we do the same thing with our thoughts. That so often, we create a reality from nothing more than our own imagination.

BAM

Like my imaginary feuds and ill will towards women that I hadn’t even met or talked to yet.

It clicked. I was tired and emotional and hating life those first few days, but I was becoming grateful for the understanding I was getting about how my monkey mind worked. I hated and appreciated the insight of how sabotaging I was being by reacting immediately to my doubts and fears as if they were reality instead of recognizing them for what they were…my own imagination. Me, throwing shadows against a wall and then being frightened by them.

Find your monsters, don't tell your friends.

I made friends with myself at just the right time, and found myself was very helpful in showing me what was real and what was imaginary. Since she is largely unemotional or judgmental, I started asking her for instant replays when I’d find myself getting bent out of shape.

I’d react to a door being shut instead of held open: “That bitch totally just slammed the door in my face! She must hate me for some reason, wtf?!”

pause.

“Myself, what just happened here? Does she hate me?”

Myself would calmly play back what happened.

A woman walked through a door. The door shut. The End.

When I saw it that way, without my reality or emotions, I found compassion. Maybe she didn’t see me, didn’t know I was so close, was lost in her own thoughts, didn’t notice. Maybe a lot of other things that didn’t involve her hating me or being a bitch. Things that didn’t make me feel bad or angry.

It was so hard and scary living with my monsters every day, feeling all that loathing and self hatred and fear that I’d always lived with but never noticed. Before, I lived with them without knowing they were warping my reality. I thought I could get away from my crazy life by going to the retreat…and then realized that Paul in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (ha!) had it so right: “no matter where you run, you just end up running into yourself.”

And that’s what kept me at the retreat, instead of running away. I guess I was already tired of running, and I realized that I could never really escape it anyway. So I took a stand to tame my monsters. I stayed, day after day, going head to head with everything in me that wanted to eat me up and spit me out. This is the beauty of meditation…self awareness and compassion. It doesn’t come as easily or peacefully as I’d thought…but eventually it does come…

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The Silence Didn’t Kill Me, But The Darkness Almost Did…

Mar 24, 11 The Silence Didn’t Kill Me, But The Darkness Almost Did…

I didn’t know much about the Vipassana retreat I’d signed up for in Washington. I didn’t know much about meditating at all, actually. But, on the surface of things, there didn’t seem to be much to understand, right? Meditation is just sitting still, being all calm and peaceful. The retreat would be a place for me to go do that while being fed and not having to speak or be spoken to for 10 days. And that, my friends, seemed very very appealing to this stressed out, overstimulated lady.

The first night I arrived (a wee bit tipsy) we all sat in the meditation hall and had our first discourse given by SN Goenke. He pointed out that our commitment to stay the entire 10 days was strong and meaningful. He added that just like a patient shouldn’t leave after being cut deeply by a surgeon even though it might hurt and feel like lots of trauma, so we shouldn’t leave when the deep cut would be made as part of the intensive meditation program.

Ah, excuse me? Wha??? As I scrambled around in my head to think about how meditation could even remotely be compared to “surgery”, “deep cut”, “wound”, or “letting an infection seep out”, I wished very strongly I’d had one more Washington Red Apple Martini. What had I signed up for?

We were instructed in how to meditate. Focus singularly on the sensations around the nostrils as we breathe in and out. Notice every little feeling and sensation. Keep our eyes closed. Maintain awareness. Work hard, very hard.

So far, so good.

Until I started doing it.

Firstly, I couldn’t feel any sensation around my nostrils as I breathed in and out.

Secondly, I couldn’t shut my mind up long enough to maintain awareness of that area.

Thirdly, I couldn’t keep my eyes shut. I wanted to look around to see if anyone else was as fidgety as I was! I wanted to see light! I wanted to get out of my head!

The silence didn't kill me...

Turns out, not speaking was not the hard part. It was the absolute darkness of keeping my eyes shut while I meditated 12 hours a day. 12 hours of absolute sensory deprivation. It was dark (thanks to the rain and the indoor meditation hall), it was quiet (absolutely still, even with 80 people all sitting there), it was free from any distraction/movement/sound. As you can see by the schedule, I had 5 hours total, scattered throughout the day, where my eyes were open. The rest of the time I was shut off from the outside world.

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The first day, I tried my hardest to maintain my focus. I failed miserably. Finally I decided to track how long I could keep my awareness on my breath by counting breaths. “One…two…three…four…five……” and then my mind would have drifted away in thoughts, and it would take me 5 minutes to notice, and then I’d try again. “One…two…three…four…five”. My thoughts were a train wreck of epic proportions. No rhyme or reason, no order, no basis in reality much of the time. They were a jumble of confusing snippets from my life…things that had happened, that I wished had happened, that I wished would happen, that probably would happen, and that I wished wouldn’t have happened. The best experiences of my life were scattered about with the absolute worst experiences I’d ever lived through. Every trauma I felt was played out. Every high and every low, every personal interaction I’d ever had since I started remembering stuff at 2 years old. My life lay before me in a wreckage of thoughts that I couldn’t control, couldn’t get rid of, couldn’t stop.

By the end of the day, when 9 pm came along, I collapsed into my sleeping bag without changing out of my clothes and fell asleep before my head hit my pillow. The mental energy it took to even stay focused for 5 seconds out of every 5 minutes made me feel like I’d run miles and miles and miles.

The second day was exponentially worse. Exhausted already, I was now feeling frustrated. My miserable effort of 5 seconds of focus was reduced by half. “One…two…” and my mind was off to the races again. It was bad when I was meditating, and even worse when it was time to eat or walk around the outdoor trail. I started talking to myself. Literally, by addressing myself as ‘myself’. I though that if I gave myself a name, like Lola or something, that would be crazier, relatively speaking.

“Myself, please, please stop THINKING.”
“Please, myself, I’m trying to eat here. Give it a break. Stop reliving all these thoughts over and over, and let me eat in peace and silence.”
“Myself! These inner monologues of thought have GOT to STOP!”
“I HATE YOU, MYSELF! HATE YOU! STOP THINKING SO LOUD!”
“Myself, if you were standing in front of me right now, I would kick your ass until you shut the hell up.”
“For the record, myself, you are tedious and boring with all these old memories you keep rehashing over and over and over. For the love of my sanity, GIVE IT A REST.”
“I AM SO OVER THIS!”
“Myself, I’m going to use the bathroom now. Will you give me a second of not thinking so I can just pee in peace?”
“I FUCKING HATE YOU SO MUCH, MYSELF”

I went to the assistant teacher to ask him a question along the lines of “why am I so bad at this? What am I doing wrong? When does the peace come?” but all I could manage was tears. The kind of crying that Wesley (Dread Pirate Roberts) did in the pit of despair. I told the assistant my stats…2 seconds out of every 5 minutes was the best I could muster. “I think that breaks down to only 72 seconds of actual meditation for every 12 hours I meditate!” I wailed. I couldn’t even explain the emotional trauma I was experiencing, the tears got in the way. He gave me a tissue, nodded, reminded me of the ‘deep cut’, told me not to focus or react to the thoughts, but every time I noticed them to refocus on the sensation around my nose again.

I walked out of there convinced this retreat was going to kill me. I went to bed feeling like I’d run an emotional half marathon.

I gave up any kind of focus and awareness the third day. I walked like a zombie, immersed in the best and worst of my life’s memories, unable to stop the continual exhausting loop. I sat, “meditating”, stooped over and totally defeated in my efforts to tame my mind. I ate lunch slowly, and with what I imagined was the haunted look of someone who has seen too much, too soon, without the ability to process or temper the trauma with anything.

“Myself, I hate what you are doing to me. I fucking hate you so much. You are a bitch of epic proportions, and I wish you would leave me the fuck alone.”

That afternoon, during the group meditation, I called a truce.

“Please, myself, I really can’t take it anymore, and I have an idea. You obviously love being busy, so I’ll give you something to do while I sit here. You make up a mini version of me, and make it dance while I play the music in my mind. OK? Got it? Here’s the first song…”

And so we danced.
and danced.
and went old school.
and then went new school, with a song I didn’t even know I knew.
and then I really turned it up.

And myself, she really had some moves. The meditation time extended past the group meditation into the solo meditation where you choose to stay in the hall or go back to your room. I stayed in the hall, having too much fun to get up and go anywhere.

“Myself! You even knew the Britney Spears dance!”

Once myself handled the Pitbull song, I paused for a second. “I know another song, but it’s got some f-bombs in it.” I waited for myself to respond, but she didn’t. She just sat and waited. I realized that she never did respond, even when I was at my angriest towards her. She wasn’t about emotion or getting caught up in judgements. She simply…was. She was pure awareness. Pure experience. She recorded the events of my life. She wasn’t emotional about them, judgemental about them, or even particularly biased towards either wanting more good or avoiding the bad. She didn’t care or get offended when I hated her so much. She was something that I’ve never been…even keeled. Balanced. Anchored and sturdy. And a really good dancer.

“You know, myself, I never ever said the f word until last year.”

She knew.

“And you know, I was always afraid to.”

She knew.

“You know what they say…bad thoughts lead to bad words lead to bad deeds. And God knows it all. I was so afraid of that.”

She knew.

“I’ve spent most of my life terrified to think, say, or do anything bad. Let anyone down. Be judged for not being perfect. It’s been really really exhausting, and really really self censoring with a lot of shit that I just should have let out.”

She knew.

“Myself, I’m not perfect.”

She knew this, too. But she didn’t judge it.

“Myself, I don’t believe in a God that holds my thoughts against me anymore. And I can’t live my life afraid of being judged as not measuring up anymore, either. I just have to live my life the best way I know how. And maybe the not best way I know how, too.”

She nodded.

“Myself, let’s dance the shit out of this song, yes?”

And when we were done with that one, we danced the shit out of this song, too, bad words and all.

I stayed sitting on my meditation mat for 4 hours total, eyes closed, having a dance party in my head.

I got to know myself.

I learned to appreciate myself.

I realized there were two versions of my life…what actually happened, and then how I react to it. Myself remembers what happened, I’m the one that attached ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘scary’, ‘terrible’ or any number of emotions and reactions to it.

From then on, my memories stopped tossing me around like an emotional tsunami. I tapped into them as myself saw them…events that had happened, or hadn’t even happened, but that weren’t happening anymore. Things that weren’t real anymore. Things that couldn’t hurt me anymore, no matter how much they hurt at the time.

I found myself, yes I did. And she is strong, and fearless, and brave. She’s not afraid to remember, and she’s not afraid of not being enough. She just…is.

The third day ended.

I walked back to my sleeping bag and fell instantly asleep. I felt like I’d run another half marathon, but when I woke up at 4 the next morning, I was in the middle of a peal of laughter from an instantly forgotten dream.

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Retreating to Washington…The Journey Begins.

Mar 22, 11