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Practicing for this Practice called Life

“The moment we sit down together, hearts open... It takes courage to meet our own tender hearts.” Susan Piver

This past weekend I had the luxurious pleasure of participating in nearly 48 hours of retreat in the privacy of my own home. While facilitated by meditation practitioner, Susan Piver, we were invited to let go of all expectations, hold our minds toward ourselves, and allow the schedule to be our container.

Meditation practice is something I’m being called to more fully explore and the Open Heart Project retreat arose as a prodigious opportunity to preview and ‘train’ for a larger upcoming event. The middle of this month I am embarking on an adventure like I’ve never before experienced. I’ll be spending 10 days at Spirit Rock Meditation Center for their Fall Insight Meditation Retreat. (To be perfectly honest, it's more than a little intimidating to consider... and I feel exhilarated and compelled to participate!)

This recent retreat felt like practice... training in silence, meditating, letting go, and holding my mind inward for an extended period of time. There’s something about tapping into our inner core that ultimately quiets the hum of normal overzealous activities and mind swirl. Exploring ways of being gentle with racing thoughts rather than fighting them.  To embrace rather than brace against. Be curious instead of caustic. Inquire versus drill down, push, burrow in, or be relentless in pursuit of... When I’m relentless, so are the thoughts. Hmmmm.


visual journal page made during retreatWhen I sit for meditation, my feet connected to the ground—an image of being anchored to and intertwined with the earth’s core, my own deep sense of connectedness arises. Preparing for practice, our facilitator invites us to let go of expectations. Ha! I think I already have... oh, there’s the thinking. So soon? The previous day my eyes stayed open during our “open eyes practice” and I pat myself on the back for getting it right, doing it better... oh my... more thoughts.

I take a deep breath and my eyes start to flutter. They’re sleepy from the early morning rising. It’s dark outside with only the light of my candle and the Apple logo on my computer calling me into focus. My instinct is to close eyes... drift inside... move toward sleep, so I invite myself to stay in the sit, eyes open, following my breath. So far so good. In. Out. My inner voice that labels “thinking” is kind and gentle and occasionally even surprised. “Oh right, that’s thinking.”

My lower back begins to stiffen, my hips lock up, and I need to sneeze. The ‘what if’s’ and ‘is that okay’ thoughts flood through my mind. I imagine the room at Spirit Rock where I’m surrounded by serene master meditators. I am the novice – the flake – the pain in the ass squirming on her mat. Is it okay to bend over? Curl my legs up? Look at the clock? Panic starts to rise. Breathe... The thoughts seize my mind as my hips and low back pinch into a tighter twist. I should have stretched... Next time... Let it go. Breathe. Follow your breath. And then the sneeze erupts with full force. Is that okay? As if I could stop the sneeze. Again I worry about disturbing others. Oh wait... there are no ‘others’ here.

I am in training. Practicing for my practice. How long have I been meditating? It feels like forever. Wait. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Always meditating – continually practicing – bringing mindfulness to all we do. Something shifts. I’m aware of my breath – the gentle focus – light beginning to come into the room. I am simply here. We are one, but even that thought doesn’t enter my mind. Time evaporates. Inhale. Exhale. A storm brews in the Midwest. Wind touches the leaves of Aspens. Gratitude. Love. Bodhichitta (awakened heart). All one together. No me. No them. This oneness happens for a split second or maybe ten minutes. I don’t know and it doesn’t matter. I am practicing... practiced... practice.

And then our guide is inviting us to bring this time to a close. Hurray! So soon? We’re done? It’s a swirl of emotions. My hips are still locked or perhaps softened into a permanent position. My back releases toward child’s pose as we offer each other a deep warrior bow. Our guide tells us we practiced 45 minutes. It’s a record for me... oh wait, “good” meditators don’t keep score... I have no idea how long the sessions will be at Spirit Rock. Can I be okay with that? Who would think we need to practice to 'sit'? Evidently, it’s not so different from anything else we choose to do mindfully!

And so... as I begin this week “post-retreat,” I pause and ponder what it might be like to let go of expectations, hold my thoughts gently, and allow each moment to be perfect just as it is. Practicing for this practice called Life!



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