My first meditation experience was over 10 years ago, when I attended a personal intensive retreat in Topanga Canyon, CA. I had no idea what to do, how to do it, or what benefits i would gain from the experience.
After that weekend, I was hooked. Although I can't say I've maintained a "regular" practice over the years, I have learned a lot about how meditation can have a positive impact on my life. I attend guided, group meditation sessions twice a week, and try to do my own meditation daily (not not always successful!)
Recently, I've been struggling with what to next in my life. Stick with corporate training, or start on a new path? And what might that path be? I've thought about a few ideas. Life Coach, End of Life Coach, Travel Blogger, Writer, Environmental Activist, Podcaster. The last three, I actually started doing last fall, and I'm still working on those projects, but I needed something more.
Last week, I found out about a Silent Meditation Retreat at the Jikoji Zen Center, a place I had visited once a couple of months ago, so...as is typical Lori, I called and reserved the last bed in the women's dorm room. Two days later, I found myself immersed in quiet, secluded, beautiful wooded setting, off Skyline Drive in Saratoga.
Now, one thing you need to know is, I have not studied Zen. I have been exposed to Mindfulness Meditation, so this whole Zen thing was pretty new to me. I was a bit nervous about the whole idea of spending almost a week in silence, just sitting and meditating most of the day...which, looking back, seems like a strange thing to be nervous about. I mean, i would be spending time with MYSELF, and with my mind, trying to stay in the present moment. What's so hard about that? Well, if you've ever tried meditation, you know that the mind does not like to stop thinking! About things that happened in the past, or might happen in the future... That's it's job, after all, to think! The idea in Zen, as in other meditation practices, is to stay present, in the moment, and when thoughts come, which they ALWAYS do, allow them to be there and bring yourself back to the present moment.
As with breathing, the mindset is essential in the practice of Zen meditation. The right state of mind emerges naturally from a deep concentration on the posture and breathing. During zazen, it is normal to have images, thoughts and emotions coming up to the surface, appearing from the unconscious mind. Do not pursue them or fight escape from them. The more you try to get rid of them, the more attention you give them, and the stronger they become. Try not to attach to them. Just let them go without judgement, like clouds in the sky
At Jikoji, and maybe in other places, they suggest giving the EGO something to do during mediation, to help stay focused on the present moment. How? By counting backwards from 10-1, over and over.
Ok, back to my experience last week. There's so much to share.
The meditation hall, called the Zendo, was a smallish, plain rectangular room, with wood floors, heated by a wood stove. Everyone took a spot around the perimeter, on either a Zafu (mediation pillow) or in a chair, or a number of other contraptions designed to make sitting more comfortable. This, I discovered, was my biggest challenge...sitting in the lotus or other similar position. My back did not like it, and my neck kept stiffening up too. So, i cheated. I alternated between sitting and lying down, with my feet resting up on a chair. Because in Zen you're supposed to keep your eyes open, I didn't fall asleep. (well, maybe once, for a few seconds :)
So, I proceeded to do...nothing. Just count backwards, over and over again. When thoughts crept in, and trust me, they did...i practiced focusing on my body, to get back to the present moment...since, really, that's all we have anyway! Now, one might argue that any thoughts hat come up during the meditation, are, in fact, happening in the present moment...so, it's ok to have them...but the idea is to not let those thoughts take over.
So i tried to observe myself having these thoughts. Sort of like seeing the forest through the trees. And I think that was my biggest take-away from the week...getting a new perspective on whatever is happening for me right now. I've been so immersed in the process of "trying to figure out what to do with my life" that I lost perspective. it didn't really hit me until the last day, and even more so when I got home..that I need to just allow whatever I am going through to happen, because really, what else can i do? I can't force myself to all of the sudden KNOW what to do! it will come when it comes. In the mean time....
Another thing that happened during the week was, we met with one of the ZEN teachers for conversation, questions, of just to sit in each other's presence. When it was my turn, I shared my struggle with trying to define the next part of my life. One thing I also realized was that for the past 20+ years, I have revolved my life around my kids. They were my anchor. Yes, i did some really cool stuff. worked for a bunch of different companies, had my art studio, went on retreats...but it was all within the context of making sure I was there for the kids. Having a flexible schedule, working part time, working as a contractor, even the art studio...enabled me to attend their sporting events, be home (most of the time) after school, drive them around, make dinner...etc. Even choosing where to live was based on the quality of the schools.
So, there I was, being MOM all this time, which was such a blessing and the best thing I have done in my life. and all that time, I saw other people struggle when the kids left the nest...they were feeling lost about what to do with their life. I thought, wow. That will NEVER happen to me! I wasn't in a hurry for the kids to be out on their own, but I did have the thought that when they were out of the house, I had a ton of things I wanted to do! I would NEVER be bored, lost, or confused about what to do! I had hobbies, and friends, and places to go, things to do!
Well..guess what. I was wrong! Now that my kids are out of the house, I AM in fact VERY lost! I guess it's one of those things, a blessing and a curse. I have the freedom, now, to pursue what I am passionate about...the problem is, I can't figure out what that is! I mean, I have lots of passions...but which one should i move forward with?
So...my ZEN teacher, Joe, suggested the following.
1. He asked if I knew how a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. Not really, I said. Well, turns out the caterpillar turns into goo before it transforms into the butterfly! it completely disintegrates and when the butterfly comes out, there is nothing left from the caterpillar. SO, he said, I'm in the GOO stage right now! Soon, the butterfly will emerge.
2. He suggested that I keep the word "maybe" in my mind. Whenever I think about what I might do next, just say "maybe".
3. Unless there's a reason to, don't rush it. These things take time. If I put pressure on myself to figure it out NOW, I might end up in the same quandary in a few weeks or months.
4. That said, he also suggested that I TRY THINGS! Maybe I want to be a writer. Try writing for 30 days, and see how I like it. If I do, keep going. If not, TRY something else. Rinse and repeat!
And there you have it. This blog post is an example of me TRYING something! I'm going to try and be more disciplined about my writing. Maybe I'll even research how to be a professional blogger. Because one thing I know is, I have a lot to say. I've been writing for most of my life, but to myself. In my journals. I have a suitcase full! Maybe it's time to share these ideas with the rest of the world.
The next Sesshin (that's what they call the ZEN silent meditation retreat) is in the fall. i can't wait for the next one. In the mean time, I'll enjoy the process of being gel, trying new things, and saying MAYBE a lot!