Last month I took an introductory class on vispassana meditation while seeking yet another tool to aid the chronic severe insomnia that has stalked me since childhood. I have practiced meditation here and there over the years (emphasis on practice) but I have never taken a class. I liked the instructor. The class led me into thirty straight days with a consistent daily practice. Emboldened, I decided to join a one-day zen meditation retreat on Saturday (despite the forecast of sunshine with the temptation to spend all day outdoors or in my sunlit studio).
I packed a lunch and broke speed limits when I zipped over the mountain pass to make it to the retreat in time. We sat zazen (sitting silent without moving) then walked kinhin (focused walking meditation) then sat zazen, then walked kinhin (etc. and etc. and etc.) Mid-morning I started to feel a bit proud of myself in the middle of the 2nd or 3rd sit. Yes - I know - "pride" has to do with the ego which is exactly what we are suppose to detach from while meditating but obviously I am a pup at meditation. Further evidenced by my puppy-like overwhelming desire to curl up and sleep on the meditation cushion most of the day. Minutes after I began to believe I was getting the hang of this whole meditation commitment, I was broad-sided with humility. Fist-sized knots in my back murmured their presence. Thoughts catapulted with loud "snap, crackle, pop" sounds in my mind. Sit still?!! The knots in my back multiplied in numbers, grew in size and increased in volume - yes - volume since they seemed to shout for attention. Honestly it became totally excruciating to get this puppy to sit still the rest of the day. I would plead in my mind for the bell signaling the end of each session. I tried to will the bell to ring---telepathically attempted to send messages such as "with my next breath the bell will ring." I decided the "bell ringer" guy in the corner must have fallen asleep, maybe I should turn around and see? Once I almost said "SERIOUSLY?!" out loud.
I decided the sessions lengthened in time as the day went on. Each zazen session during the afternoon stretched out to an hour...or more. I tried to find comfort in the belief that when I returned home to my 20-minute daily sessions they would be "easy peasy" after the dedicated day of meditating for hours at a time. The retreat day ended as we were served tea. Most practitioners sat serenely cross-legged while we shared the tea ritual - as if they hadn't just spent a whole day pretzeled in stillness. I squirmed. I did notice a heightened sense of awareness when I snarfed the cookie, which seemed to exude extra scrumptiousness despite being gluten-free-from-a-package. I am not much into herbal teas, which have always seemed weak and boring to me but I swear the herbal tea tasted divine. While the others broke their silence to ask the teacher questions, I vowed to scoot to my favorite coffee shop for a fresh bakery treat and some spicy strong chai tea as soon as this whole dang retreat was over. The idea of strong dark tea and a fresh baked treat as soon as I split from the zen center but while still in my "heightened" awareness had me nearly giddy with anticipation. Upon the conclusion of the retreat, I bowed with as much reverence as a squirming puppy can muster and high-tailed it out the door to my truck. I don't remember driving to the bakery but I do remember I stood at the counter kneading the knots in my back while I selected not one but two giant bakery items with my extra spicy chai. I had after all burned a zillion calories chasing my mind like a puppy chases its tail and besides, I had earned those baked goods by not exclaiming "SERIOUSLY" out loud during the retreat. Right?
When I got home (exhausted) after the 1-day retreat, the first thing I did (after pouring a glass of wine) was to look up the one-day retreat schedule online to see just how many hours I had attempted to meditate. Dismay. According to the schedule, all of the zazen sessions were just 30-35 minutes in length. That's it. Never one whole hour (or more) between mediative walks...?!
Ice climbing is easier - with the result of a more euphoric type of tired. But then, this puppy isn't anywhere near bliss/euphoria on the cushion. I talked with a sculptor friend of mine on the phone while drinking my 2nd post-retreat glass of wine. He (like me) is not known for holding still - ever. But he is 20+ years older than me and more full of energy/accomplishment than most people I know my age and younger. Both he and I can zip through 12 hours of focused intense studio time without breaks, forgetting food and ourselves while immersed in the work. I swear it is a meditative state. We are both "in body" and "out of body" while we create. We feel pain and keep working while dedicated to something both within and totally outside of ourselves. We remain silent for exceptionally long periods of time. Maybe I've found what people who "sit" look for...?!
After sleeping on it, and during a hike in the sunshine outdoors the next day (giddy with the freedom of movement) I thought about how often I hike in a mindful meditative way. I am beginning to see that my lifestyle actually naturally incorporates several types of meditation on a daily bases. The severe "sit on a cushion for long periods" type of meditation might not be for me - just like spending hours working out daily inside a gym isn't for me although I maintain a level of fitness well above average (verging on extreme). Obviously spirituality is woven into my work and lifestyle just like fitness is woven into my life both inside and outside the studio.
I haven't given up meditation. I am exploring my options. I am also re-reading "Eat, Pray, Love."
Open. Curious. Humbled. Inspired.