Driving up the mountain; 5500 ft in elevation!
I’m not sure how to explain something so indescribable with something as simple and transparent as words..
I’ll start with day 1.. (Note: I actually did 5 days, not 6)
My first zazen (seated meditation for almost 2 hours with 2 short walking meditations between) was surprisingly easy. I was told to count my breaths and let my thoughts flow in and out of me. One, two, three, four.. before I knew it the bell rang and we were to get up to begin a very slow walking meditation (foot slowly goes up when you breathe in and then steps back down when your breath lets out). Afterwards, we had a break for 2 hours. Break? What is there even to do here? I had no cell phone, no book, no pen or paper and this was a silent sesshin (an intensive zen retreat) so we weren’t allowed to speak to each other. Confusion.
It seemed the second I laid my head down for a nap, the sounds of the bell were heard to begin another zazen. It felt like something right out of a movie — people in their loose black robes whisking by with their monotonous chants and lighted wicks. My mind was absorbing all of the new and time seemed to be going by without a hitch. By the third zazen, my mind had absorbed enough and I was resisting. My knees hurt, one of my legs were numb and I just couldn’t sit anymore. Thoughts of rebellion crept in.. sitting in lotus position, I wanted to do a cartwheel off of my cushion and land two feet in front of me in resuming lotus position. One, two, one, two, in, out, in, out.. Kanye West rapping popped into my head. How many more days did I have left? 4. Oh. Right.
We did four separate zazens a day which meant almost 8 hours of meditation a day. The first couple zazens were easy but the following sittings got harder and harder. There was a sense of dread at certain points of the day. Again?! The mornings were the hardest for me. We got ourselves out of bed at 4:45 every morning and started the grueling zazen right away. It was freezing and dark outside and it took the life out of me to keep my head from nodding off to sleep. Maybe I could practice how to fall asleep sitting up. Almost like clockwork, the last portion of each sitting, my eyelids would fly open and I would look around the room. I would stare at the time-keeper. Telepathically I was asking him, could you ring the bell please?
After the third day, I had thoughts of going home. I couldn’t take it anymore. I wanted to speak! To eat potato chips! To sing! I wondered what texts I had awaiting me. I felt trapped. My body ached. My foot was tingling. It’s funny how separate the mind can become and we believe these thoughts. I had to be my breath, my sitting, the zazen. The more I believed my pain and tried to move or resist, the more it persisted even worse. Once I surrendered to it and breathed the pain, it fizzled away into nothingness. Nothingness, emptiness — essence.
I felt warm energy throughout my body. It was cold outside but my palms were hot — almost sweaty. Time became nothing. I noticed after every sitting that I couldn’t even remember from the minute I started to the minute I ended. It was as if there was no differentiation. Time was nothing! There is no before or after! It is now, only now. A zen master said that thousands and thousands of moments live and die in each second. Words do not encapsulate the true meaning but perhaps I had felt a bit of that. Anytime I became too aware of the pain, I meditated on these five simple words: Every beginning has an end.
I was starting to notice how profound everything was — to do the smallest of activities with diligence and care. Each activity had importance. This profoundness was what defined being present, for me. I was shocked at how quickly the time seemed to go. No TV, music, talking, internet. Just me — in my skin, nature and the sky. And with that, time was just an illusion — each moment seemed to pass as quickly as it came before me, yet each moment was as important as the next. Odd!
By the last day, I didn’t really feel much of anything. There was no resistance, no “defining,” no reasoning — things were just as they were. Weren’t they also just as they were the moment I came in on my first day? I was more aware of my energy — the connectedness of my energy with another’s energy, with nature. The body, the trunk, the flower; aren’t these just temporary containers for the everlasting, collectiveness of the soul?
On my drive home, I felt immense gratitude, peace, love and happiness. Everything seemed crisp. Were the clouds always that white? I was buzzing with a feeling of intense love. I was inspired by the souls I met at the retreat — the dedication, love and goodness within them. I can’t quite explain the sensations I have within me but it is as if life is going by in slow motion, absorbing and enjoying every bit, watching the colors and movements resume yet in the same aspect, the illusion of time also seems to go by so quickly, giving me a sense of amazement that I am living this life right now and just how lucky we are!