May 14, 2009

retreat part 1: enough

Another silent retreat. At the beginning you go in like a brand-spanking-new greenhouse, all glass walls and unsprouted seeds in bare dirt... and as time goes on, an atmosphere develops, and clouds form, and the seeds sprout and grow and bloom, and pretty soon you've got a whole ecosystem and condensation on the walls and broad jungle leaves blocking the view... Mostly, it's a very good thing, because it means you are alive and something is really happening, but it makes it nearly impossible to explain the experience! Like trying to explain how things are different after a spring rain...

At an afternoon sitting a few days in to the retreat, I started to feel sick. It's a familiar feeling, my stomach being the troublemaker that it is, but it's *really* unpleasant. And it makes it almost impossible to sit up or swallow. I tried all the tricks in my bag. First, I just acknowledge that I'm not feeling well and turn my attention to something else. When it gets bad enough that I can't pay attention to anything else, I try to dissect the experience. Which sensations are painful? Which are uncomfortable? How am I reacting? How very studious. Eventually, some little fuse blows in my mind and all my efforts to be calm and observant are out the window. I stay seated, but it's like trying to hold a squirming cat. And of course that's a losing battle... I was finally forced to get up and leave. In the middle of the sitting. In front of all those silent people sitting there, ears attuned to the tiniest of noises...

I got out of the hall and collapsed on to the floor, feeling sick, embarrassed, and cuttingly sarcastic with myself. Geez, said that nasty little voice in my mind, you might as well have busted out your toenail clipper, or power drill, or jackhammer. How considerate. Now they probably hate you. There is nothing you can do here to show your respect and concern for anyone except to not screw up, and you couldn't even manage that. I was lying on the floor listening to this voice - my own voice - taunt me like I was 8 years old again, cornered on the playground by a bully twice my size. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I started to cry. That nasty little voice became a whiny little voice. Listen to yourself, it said. You're treating yourself like rubbish. You're preying on your own weaknesses, and you're really, really good at it. How pathetic. Haven't you suffered enough already???

Yes, came a clear answer. Let's stop.

I opened my eyes. A new voice. My own voice, without a doubt, speaking in my own authentic way, from somewhere quiet. Not straining, not struggling, not trying to contort my experience in to something positive. Not trying to prove its kindness, not trying to be good, not trying to be better - just completely, utterly kind. There was no failure. Suddenly I felt the cool floorboards underneath me. I heard the silence all around me and felt the peacefullness that was still blanketing the meditation hall. I got up. I made tea.

I was fine.

1 comment:

Adriana said...

Dear Cygnet,
Where on the blogosphere are you nowadays? I found many of your articles very earthy and intriguing, but i got to you via research on empath health. I am going to be 40 this year and find I can no longer manage the drawbacks of being an empath, so I'm determined to finally put this to work in some constructive way. How are you managing? If you get this you can reply on the following places:

Adriana Hill