As many of you know, I just returned from a silent meditation retreat. Some of you have let me know that you are really interested in hearing more about it. What is it like to be quiet for a whole week? Is it peaceful? Restful? Enjoyable? Isn’t it kind of boring? Lonely? Hard?
All of That.
And that is the point!
While some people talk about meditation as a way to calm the mind and students often say things like, “I can’t meditate, my mind is too active.”, I don’t believe that meditation is necessarily just a means to get peaceful. I look at as a way to get to know myself more deeply and to work out some of the stuff within that busy mind.
I have never practiced meditation to get quiet. Yes, I feel like my meditation practice has helped me to become more calm and assisted me in feeling peace, but quiet? No! My mind is noisy! And being on retreat where no one is talking to me and I am not engaged in the process of telling my story (out loud), I really get to listen. Noisy!
Which again, is the point. At least that is how I see it.
There certainly are styles of meditation where the focus is on creating calm and steady mind states where it is quiet and peaceful. By focusing over and over on an object (breath, mantra, body sensation etc.) the meditator attempts to slow thought down and focus away from the activity of the mind. These can be nice and there is something pleasant about the tranquility possible there. But it can also be jarring and diminishing to be in the process of constantly correcting oneself. “No, not that thought; the breath!”. “No, not the grocery list; ham sa, or is it so hum…mmmm, no, not the grocery list, ahhhh”. “inhaling, exhaling, inhaling, exhaling, I sure screwed up that conversation, I should have said, no!! the breath, inhal…..”, “no”, “no”, …….
The mind is seen as something unruly, somehow bad, and that needs to be tamed. When we practice from this point of view, no matter how gentle you try to be, there is something of the horse trainer that gets awakened just trying to “break” the mind of its habits.
Personally, I like my mind. There I said it. It is interesting. Sometimes funny. Sometimes infuriating. And often, really helpful! I practice meditation to find more of my inner yes! My meditation practice is focused more on trying to understand myself and this mind. The stories I tell myself, when I let them play out instead of constantly interrupting them, actually start to soften and become much less loaded. I let my mind drift and I watch where it takes me. I let the mind follow and often the journey is quite enlightening. Sometimes, it is just goofy – like me! And sometimes, it takes me somewhere really peaceful. Quiet. Tranquil. But what I find is that getting there like that, I don’t feel so attached to staying there or battered by moving in and out or resistant to coming out. I go there, being present with what really is ‘in the moment’ and when the moment changes I don’t feel assaulted by the shift.
And really, that is why I practice. So I can move through all the various changes within me and around me feeling a little more calm and at ease as I do.
So, retreat. Not talking to others and sitting for multiple sessions every day allows an even richer, deeper experience of what the meditation does. I get to explore my own interior and see how my stories develop over the course of a few days. It is silent on the outside, but oh so noisy on the inside! But I find that given the time to more deeply listen, I learn and appreciate and that in that there is some peace. So Hum…..
To learn more about this style of meditation check out Jason Siff’s book, Unlearning Meditation: What to do when the instructions get in the way. And watch for a great new Introduction to Meditation series with Leslie coming in September.