I surfaced out of retreat this morning.
A week of seated mindfulness meditation…(give or take 1 or 2 days of an ego tantrum). It was a humbling experience.
I live alone. Close to nature. In the wilderness every day. I live in relative silence, without tv, and spend the majority of most days on my own. I have done week long tech-free retreats before. But never a week of sitting. A week of bringing myself into the present by focusing solely on sensations of my body and breath.
I wasn’t anticipating doing a retreat. I didn’t know a week long retreat was part of the Mindfulness Teacher Training when I accepted the job as Trainer for the mindfulness program I facilitate for corrections. “It wasn’t my choice”, my ego said. “I’m already a yoga therapist”, “I’ve just finished 5 years of school and I promised myself a break”, it said. But begrudgingly I entered the retreat Sunday night.
Let’s chat about mindfulness for a moment. Mindfulness simply put, is becoming aware of and directing your attention or focus on one thing. To move mindfully is to focus on the sensations of movement and breath in the physical body. To eat mindfully is to be present with your food; without tech, tv, reading material or even conversation. But to sit in mindful meditation in this retreat meant to sit repeatedly in half hour increments and focus on just being aware of sitting and breathing. Being aware of physical sensations in the body, the awareness of breathing and learn to be present with what comes up. Experiencing what arises in the mind in each moment.
I have a daily seated practice. Over the last 5 years I’ve sat anywhere from 20 min to 2 hours, with the average being around 30 minutes a day. I wasn’t expecting the retreat to be hard, I was more annoyed that I had to do it at all…my stories were already starting to spin before I even sat down.
Monday was okay; body was sore from sitting pretty much from 0700-2100. Tuesday my body was sore, but I felt anger start seeping in. Anger, annoyance and story. So much story. Around having to do a training I didn’t want to do. Resentful about feeling my existing training wasn’t good enough. About thinking I know all this already. I watched my mind rationalize all the reasons why I shouldn’t be doing the retreat, or the training. I know I have used carefully crafted arguments to “win” fights in past relationships. I had a real thing about always being right. About control. Who knew I could use that shadowy skill against myself? My own mind was screaming at me, “Nobody is going to tell us what to do!”. So I bailed out of zoom and sat down to write all my “logical” reasons for leaving.
I’m grateful for grace. For others who have gone before me and done this work. For trusted friends who know me and can call me on my shit. It took me a couple days to reflect, and to pull my head out of my ass. To recognize the armored-up stories that covered up old fears. I’m humbled. I know that doing this work is a lifetime process that continues to unfold in layers. But I really thought I had some of this shit beat. After clearing out so much shadow, integrating decades of story and conditioning, it’s humbling when more bubbles up to the surface. But with a sense of humor and compassion for myself, I can look back, even in the span of a few days and laugh. Laugh watching my stubbornness. Watching that old suit of armor, the same defense mechanisms that I used to protect myself from getting hurt, from fear of not being seen, heard or understood. Of rejection and loss of belonging. I let myself see it, feel it and LET. IT. GO.
We are hard wired for the need for CONNECTION. First to each other, to our care givers when we enter this skin suit. How we connect with other humans before we are 7 gives us our reference point for how we relate to the world, where we form our survival personalities. We are conditioned to look to our external environments and relationships for survival. It’s where we have needs for food, shelter and community met. What we are so rarely taught is how to connect to our own internal landscape as a means of self-mastery. To free ourselves from the conditioning that might not be serving us anymore. Connecting to our internal landscape and learning to focus our attention on the experience of the moment, opens our awareness for all the old stuff to come up, to be felt, to integrate and be let go of. All the old hurts, fears, stressful events and traumas get stuffed down, numbed out or emotionally by-passed in the moment for either practical, professional reasons of not being able to address it in the moment, or fear that we can’t face or handle the big emotions that are tied to these events. Seated mindfulness, often paired with mindful movement, is a great way to give our bodies and minds the time and space to be with the toughest memories of life. To let all aspects of our body, (physical, mental, emotional and spiritual), process and release the experiences we carry.
It took a couple days, and a few good conversations with my trusted circle for my ego tantrum to end before I jumped back into retreat. I’m thankful I did. Thankful for the experience. I’ll jump in to another as soon as I get the chance. It’s a powerful practice; to sit and watch the mind. It’s not work for the faint of heart, but like all of this “doing the work” stuff, it’s the path to freedom, to learning the beauty of being human, of growing compassion and empathy, and a sense of humor around this whole temporary experiment in form.
I’d like to share these tools with others. So as my way to give back, as well as for getting to practice holding space, I’m going to start a weekly 30 min mindfulness practice Wednesdays at 7pm EST via zoom. If you’d like to join me, message me for the link. Anyone can join. I’ll post the audio recording on my iTunes podcast, (Freedom through Self Care), afterwards. It will be a simple guided practice of body scans, breathwork and mindfulness. I would love to share this time with you.