I’m heading out for a four-day meditation retreat tomorrow and I am not ready at all. By that I don’t mean packing my bags, that only takes me a few minutes, it’s just that I’m not really in a kneeling-and-staring-at-the-wall-for-hours frame of mind right now. My meditation practice in the last three weeks has taken a backseat to work and writing – and I have a bit of guilt around seeing my teachers for that reason too.
But I’ve paid, I’ve agreed to my practice position (head tea server), and what’s more, I’m on the hook to give someone a ride from the ferry to the retreat centre so there is really no backing out on this one. And I wouldn’t want to anyways – after all, when we come to meditation practice, we come from wherever we are at that moment. It can’t really be any other way.
A musician friend of mine staying at the house this week says that to be perfect, to reach enlightenment is not truly human. That to be human is to be full of flaws and contradictions. And I think that’s right. I don’t believe in perfection, but I do think that striving for it is one hundred percent who we are as a species. It’s what gives us drive to improve things for ourselves and others. It’s also what leads us to some of our worst behaviours. The notion of perfectability can be twisted in so many different directions, and they aren’t all altruistic.
So that’s not what I go to meditation retreat for. Though I believe the psychological state that looks like “enlightenment” is attainable, I don’t think it’s anything mystical that one gains and then holds onto. Then again – what do I know? I’m not enlightened! What I do know is that sitting in meditation for hours, or days at a time, silently letting go of thoughts and cultivating an inner quiet, allows for openings and understandings that might not otherwise be there in our busy, noisy lives. I’ve certainly had experiences – often post retreat – that suggest meditation has the power to unlock some pretty deep stuff in us, and some of it’s pretty instructive to doing just a little bit better in this world. Which is why I do this thing in the first place: each time is a totally different experience of the practice, and each time I come away with a little bit more of something — not perfection — but a little bit more of myself in the world.
Which is why showing up, exactly as I am — unprepared and exhausted and a little bit resistant to practice at the moment — is so important. Because I’ll only find out what I’m going to learn this time when I do. And besides, it’s beautiful up there in the mountains, even if I do spend most of my time looking at the floor.