Archive for the ‘walking meditation’ Category

(Disclaimer: This blog post contains some swearing.  If you are offended by coarse language, you may want to close this web page.  I don’t use cursing flagrantly, nor as an “attention-grabber”, but rather to honestly share what I was thinking/feeling/experiencing at various points in this retreat experience. Okay, all that being said – if you are still interested in reading, I happily welcome you in.)  :)

I got out of bed at my usual 4 am wake-up time.  At 5 am I was in the shower, and by 6 am the car was packed and I was on the road.  The morning was overcast, drizzly, and cold – which made for very exhausting driving.  I felt myself fighting fatigue the entire two hours it took to get to the retreat center – ugh.  (At this point I would like the record to show that I was not fighting sleep; that’s dangerous [and in my opinion rather stupid].  Rather, I was fighting fatigue, which is unpleasant, but not unsafe.  Just so we’re all clear.  Okay, I’ll continue…)

Despite the fatigue, I arrived to the retreat center safely – only to learn that the organizers weren’t on-site yet.  Okay… Forty-five minutes later, a flustered woman entered the center, only slightly apologetic for her tardiness.  Breathe Stef…. I held my tongue, received my room assignment (and roommate), put my sleeping bag and clothes on my bed, and put my cushion and blanket in the meditation hall – just in time for the 9 am introduction session.

Only, 9 am came and went, but no teacher arrived.  9:10 am… 9:20 am… My judgmental mind grew louder, and louder; and I felt my physical boy tensing and tightening; and my mind started to question why the hell I was even here – shit, I could be at home, kicking back, enjoying a nice yoga class…or reading some fun blogs…or hell, catching up on the million chores and errands I have waiting for me when I return back home… this is bullshit!  Why the hell do I do this to myself?  That’s it, no more retreats for me.  Screw meditation.  Screw mindfulness.  Why can’t I just be an unconscious, apathetic, materialistic person like so many others in society?  Why do I f***ing care so much?!

Um, yeah – clearly I need this retreat.  It’s pretty evident that too much junk has accumulated in my mind, and my heart; time to clear some clutter.

At 9:30 am the ‘better’ (insightful, wise) part of myself finally said, “Whoa, calm down.  Let go.  Just.  Let.  Go.”  And I did.  And at 9:31 am, the two teachers entered the meditation hall.  (Literally.)  Of course they did.  HP, I swear, you are one tricky bugger…

Alright.  So 9 am was supposed to be “Introductions” – but those never happened.  When the two teachers (monks) arrived, they sat down, and told us to watch our breath – and that was it.  We then meditated for the next hour.  Flashbacks of my 10-day retreat experience flooded back to me, and I did tell myself that if this was what the weekend was going to be like, I would leave tonight – I will not repeat that experience again.  During that first hour of meditation my mind was a crazy swirl, and I mostly saw how angry, hostile, and upset it was.

It was a brutal hour of meditation.  Truly.

At 10:30 am the teacher ended the seated meditation (thank G-d!), and gave 10 minutes of instruction on walking meditation.  Then from 10:45-11 am we practiced walking meditation – and I enjoyed this a lot more.  I’m a big fan of walking meditation – I find it soothing and comforting.  The 15 minutes passed by very quickly; then from 11-11:30 am the monk answered various questions people asked.

During those 30 minutes, I finally got to witness and experience the monk’s personality – and it was terrific.  Bhante G is knowledgeable, certainly; but he’s also quite witty, and very real.  Down to earth.  And he smiles a lot.  And he seems deeply at peace.  It was lovely to be in his presence; the 30 minutes flew by.

At 11:30 am we broke for lunch – and in the dining area, everyone was talking.  A lot.  And loudly.  I was dismayed.  This retreat was supposed to be held in noble silence – but because the monks arrived late this morning and didn’t conduct a proper opening for the retreat, no common expectations were established; and so people just did what they always do, which is a lot of yammering about not much at all.  Ugh.

I ate lunch as quickly as I could, avoided eye contact with my tablemates (which is one aspect of noble silence), and answered their questions with one-word responses.  (Literally.)  I wasn’t trying to be rude; rather, I was attempting to lead by example.  But I don’t think people ‘got it’.  Oh well.

After 10 minutes of eating I went into the kitchen, and did dishes.  Alone.  In silence.  Fine.

12:30-1:30 pm was ‘private time’ – the one point in the daily schedule that is unstructured.  I went to my room, hoping to find refuge amid the noise that seemed to pervade the entire facility – and instead found my roommate talking on her damn cell phone.  Are you kidding me?!

Okay, clearly I have been put on this retreat to learn patience, tolerance, and acceptance – and seeing my internal responses to the stimuli provided to me thus far shows me certainly I have opportunity for growth and maturation in these areas.  So, I can either learn the lessons and change the way I live my life, or I can continue to receive ‘opportunities’ to practice.  Ugh.  Here’s to hoping I can be a really quick study.

At 1:30 pm we did more walking meditation, then at 2 pm we did more sitting meditation.  My mind was still crazy-scattered, and I was still extremely tired, and I still felt a lot of resistance to being on this retreat.  Grr.  At 2:45 pm we had a 15-minute tea break, where mercifully most everyone was relatively quiet.  Not silent, mind you, but at least quiet.  Then at 3 pm we had our first teaching session.  The monk explained that the basic gist of Vipassana meditation (the style of meditation I practice, and the type of meditation this retreat is based on) is to watch the arising and passing of all things; and to fully experience that all things are impermanent.  Why bother seeing/feeling/experiencing that all things are impermanent?  The logic is that we suffer because we cling; we grasp at things, and if/when we get them, we hope and pray we get to keep them – but that’s NEVER the way it actually works (because ALL things are changing constantly).  So basically, we’re playing a game we can never win: we cling with the idea/goal of permanence, in a completely impermanent world.  But.  If we can learn impermanence and truly internalize it, we will cease the clinging, which ends the whole ugly cycle, and voila – we’re free of suffering.

Another way (the more ‘formal’ Buddhist way) of saying it: The five reasons we meditate are to: (1) purify the mind; so that we may (2-4) become free of clinging, anger, and hatred; which will allow us to (5) attain enlightenment/liberation/nibbana.

I’m still very much a novice in Vipassana and Buddhism, so I need things nice and simple (especially when it comes to ancient, deep spiritual teachings); so here’s my personal short-hand version of the whole deal: Let Go. Accept. Be Friendly.

Now, if only it were that easy to actually do

After the monk’s teaching, the schedule said we would have an hour of yoga – which was a lie.  No yoga was offered; instead, we were told to do more walking meditation.  NO!  (So much for acceptance.)  I was really, really looking forward to an hour of yoga each day – and was incredibly disappointed when it didn’t happen.  Indeed, at this point I was fed up.  I went to my room, and did “stare-out-the-window-and-watch-drizzle-soak-the-ground” meditation.  And after 30 minutes of standing and staring, I did fee a little bit better.

I then engaged in about 15 minutes of walking meditation, then sat for an hour of silent meditation.  During that session I stopped fighting my mind (i.e., I let go).  Instead of engaging in battle with my lack of concentration, I just sat back and witnessed the craziness of my mind (acceptance).  I stopped beating myself up for not being perfect (more acceptance), and tried to cut myself some slack (friendliness).  This wasn’t a session of total liberation by any means, but it was progress…

At 6 pm the monk chanted for 10 minutes (the schedule indicated chanting would occur for an hour) – and then told us to take a “tea break” until 7:30 pm.  Um… that’s a long time to drink tea.  But okay, fine, I’m working on acceptance… so I went to my room, and my roommate followed.  When she closed the door she turned to me and said (loudly), “Hey, how are you doing?  How’s the day going for you?  What do you think?”  Oh hell no.  This retreat is supposed to be in noble silence – it’s one of the reasons I signed up for it!  I blinked, breathed deeply, smiled as gently as I could, then put my index finger to my lips.  My roommate looked at me sheepishly.  “Oh, okay,” she whispered.  “Sorry.  I forgot.  I’m not used to this…”  Hon, whispering is still talking!  Aaaarrrggggg!!

I picked up my tea mug, and went upstairs to the kitchen to make some tea.  When I returned to the room a few minutes later, the roommate was still there; so I walked down the hallway a bit – and saw a completely unoccupied room. Hello!  I sat in the chair of the room, and sighed.  Ah, silence, it’s nice to experience you again.  In the very next moment I made a decision: I went rogue.  I moved all of my things from my roommate’s room to this unoccupied room – and it was terrific.  Now, I know, taking this action means I did not accept the situation that was presented to me.  However, I think this may have been a case of applying wisdom (as in “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”); this was a thing I could change, and I had enough wisdom to realize it, and I applied courage to take a rogue action.  And I’m really glad I did.

7:30 pm finally came, and the teacher spoke about two topics that I swear were directed precisely at me.  The first topic was about body image – specifically, how the Buddha taught about the 32 different parts of the body, and how he (the Buddha) stressed again and again that the body is neither beautiful nor ugly, it just is.  Life isn’t beautiful nor ugly, it just is.  Once we can get past notions of like/dislike, pleasure/displeasure, beautiful/ugly, etc., and see the reality of life (specifically, to see things just as they are, and only as they are – i.e., without adding our own reactive, emotional baggage to them), we will be liberated.  [From all of the “crazy” I’ve exhibited today, clearly I’m still firmly in the ‘reactive’ stage of the noble path.]

The second topic the teacher spoke about was loving-friendliness; and about how a very good aim to have in our practice (our life) is to cultivate feelings of friendliness towards every being.  Again, from the looks of the various responses I have displayed today, I have a lot of room to grow in that department, too.

So I’m pretty much feeling like a piece-of-shit human at this point, when the teacher wraps up the evening with a story.  The basic gist of the tale is that the Buddha saw all humans as lotus blooms.  Some blooms are at the top of the pond, and only need a faint hint of sunshine before they open wide and display all of their beautiful petals.  Some blooms are in the middle of the pond, and need a bit more nudging and help to reach the surface – but once they get there, they too will open and reveal their lovely flower.  Some blooms are at the bottom of the pond, stuck in the mud – and these poor blooms have to be dug out of all the muck, then have to make it all the way to the top of the pond… and all of this can take a lot of effort, and a lot of time.  But.  Once these blooms finally do make it to the surface, they will open, and realize their lovely flower natures.

I may be a tiny lotus bud trapped in a whole pile of muck at the bottom of a deep-ass pond, but I’m still a lotus, damn it!


(Click here to go to Day 2.  [If Day 1 didn’t scare you off, that is.])  :)


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