I guess I just dropped out there for the last ten days or so didn’t I? It’s not like I didn’t know I was going to disappear for a few minutes, because I had big plans that came to fruition over the last ten days, but I didn’t give any warning either. I just stopped posting again – which sometimes happens just because, but this time happened *because*.
Over the last ten days I pulled together a fabulous cocktail party for Brian’s birthday, drove up to our cabin at Link Lake for three days, and then left on Thursday for a four-day meditation retreat on Denman Island. It’s this last item I’m going to write about now, the other two adventures will be the subject of blog posts later this week (though the photo above was taken at Link Lake, I was not taking any photos while on retreat!)
Originally, my friend K. stated a desire and intention that we do a silent meditation retreat together – this was about a year ago, when I was pretty new to meditation and didn’t have any particular practice/tradition/sangha except an interest in breath-focused, sitting meditation – so I did what we all do in such circumstances: Google. In my searches I had discovered The Hermitage on Denman Island, and was caught in particular by the teaching description of Dr. Cheryl Fraser, a professional therapist and a Dharma teacher who was offering a meditation workshop suitable for beginners in May 2014. Without enough notice, my friend and I could not attend, but I kept my eye out for the 2015 spring program and when it arrived online early this year (or late in 2014), I noticed the same teacher and a similar sounding workshop and let my friend know to which she replied a definite yes! to going.
So I signed up and around the same time (at my friend Carmen’s suggestion) I got involved with Mountain Rain Zen Community which is close to my home and has some great teachers (the local teachers are fantastic and the head teacher Norman Fischer is full-stop amazing). After a fashion I learned that there was a non-residential retreat with Norman Fischer scheduled for the first weekend in May, and my friend K. was showing signs of not having signed up for the retreat on Denman (as in, she never confirmed that she had signed up – I had a feeling it wasn’t happening for her). So I was thinking I would cancel because it was out of the way for me, because I was getting a different retreat opportunity and so on and so on.
But then! My friend C. signed herself up at least partly at my encouragement, and so I didn’t cancel. Instead what ended up happening is in the month of May I had my first two significant meditation retreat experiences – and I regret neither.
This past weekend marked a bunch of firsts for me including: first residential retreat, first retreat more than two days in length, first meditation sitting of up to two hours, first time not absolutely hating yoga (but I still don’t like it very much). And even though I was entering something pretty new to me on one level (all meditation all the time, no phone, no reading, no writing) – the fact that I have a daily practice, belong to a meditation community, attend my zendo weekly, am used to sitting in small and large groups, and have spent lots of time in alternative communities – meant that I felt pretty much at ease from the very first sit to the last. Not that I was comfortable most of the time – I am not someone who finds meditation physically easy, and there are certainly lots of emotional ups and downs in any practice – but the setting and discipline didn’t freak me out at all.
That was not true for everyone, and I realized (for the billionth time) that even though I have only been at this for two years, I am not longer a *beginner* meditator. I’m not super experienced, mind you, but I’ve stopped asking myself why meditate (I know the benefits first hand), and I’m not worried about my ability to sit through discomfort the way I used to be. That’s a start anyhow.
And it’s where I started from this past weekend, which doesn’t mean there weren’t internal struggles (I had the happy fun times experience of working with judgement for at least two solid days), or that it was easy (I felt fucking heroic at the end of two hours of sitting, let me tell you). But I did realize after sitting for four days that somewhere along the past two years of practice, I have “leveled up” and I am not only able to sit, but also to accept the teachings that go along with meditation. Which is to say that I am at a point in my life where I don’t simply listen to the dharma talks in order to get the meditation instruction, but I go to meditation practice in order to hear the dharma. Or to put it another way, it has become increasingly apparent that meditation is just the gateway drug and it’s got me hooked into something much more potent (which is not magic, which allows me to continue in my atheism, and which has psychology and neuroscience as its basis – so don’t worry, I haven’t gone crazy).
I don’t want to detail about all the many things that passed through my mind as I was sitting, walking, or lying down in my cabin – they probably aren’t much interesting to anyone but me – but the most revealing aspect of the depth of my experience on retreat came as we left the grounds towards home. It turned out that after four days of meditation, C. and I were so relaxed that we made a two-ferry, long-weekend, six-hour journey with a one-sailing wait trip home to Vancouver without a word of complaint, a feeling of frustration, or a whisper of disappointment. For real. Mind blown.
I’m back at work today and still feeling a little of the afterglow (I increased my daily sitting time by 15 minutes this morning and was startled when the timer went off because it seemed like no time at all) but also a bit fragile, a bit afraid of the demands on my attention, the requests I must fulfill. To compensate and to boost my spirits, this afternoon I booked the time off for two weeks of vacation and two more retreats in the next few months (July and November) – things I had planned before this last weekend, and which allowed me to leave retreat a bit more easily. Which means I’m going back, as soon as I can pretty much make it happen, it really was that good – but not in any way I can really describe.