Getting through 10 days of meditation

meditatingalonebtwntrees I threw myself into a 10-day meditation retreat* about two weeks ago and I’m finally ready to report back about my experience. I’m going to write another entry about the teaching itself but in this first entry I want to tell you about my struggle to stay. Meditators often talk about the importance of learning to stay. When sitting in meditation, the objective is to stay present with all the emotions and sensations that arise rather than fleeing into numbing or distraction. Needless to say, facing emotional and physical discomfort head on is not a walk in the park. Every morning of my retreat I wanted to leave and every evening I was proud to have stayed, but it wasn’t easy…

I believe very strongly in the power of meditation, yet when I sit to practice my brain starts to tell me that I am wasting my time and that I should be doing something “more productive.” So I knew that getting through the ten days would be a challenge and that I would be fighting to convince myself to stick it out.

In the first half of the course, I actively deliberated about whether or not to stay. It happened that I am in the midst of a lot of big decisions. I’d made a lot of changes in how I manage my health and I’d been accepted to a number of degree programs that required a response. Depending on my decision, it was possible that I would be moving and starting school six weeks after returning from the retreat. So as the moments ticked by in the meditation hall, it was hard not to think to myself…what am I doing here right now!?! My inner dialogue, after half an hour of sitting each day, looked something like this:

“I’m so tired. This is awful. My back hurts! Why am I doing this to myself? I could be doing irreversible damage to my body right now. Bodies were not meant to sit for hours! I don’t need to do this to myself. What am I doing here? My mind is way too active to do this for ten minutes let alone ten days! I’m going to end up day-dreaming for ten days and meanwhile I should be at home packing to move to school! I’m bored. What if something really important is going on at home? What if something happens to someone I love and I never get to say goodbye????”

As you can see, I had a lot going on in my head. I didn’t know if this rebellion against meditation was just part of my mind’s usual tricks. I did have a number of critical, life-changing and time sensitive decisions to make at home…was I irresponsible for going to the retreat? I had doubts the night before leaving but came to the conclusion that it was something I needed to do. I wanted to reconnect with that conviction and I made the decision to break the rule forbidding writing. Just for five minutes! I know I’m being a bad example here but you gotta do what you gotta do and I had to make a list. It was that or I was ready to pack so I recorded all the reasons that I had made that final decision to go into retreat and posted it on my wall. As I wrote, I remembered how critical it was for me to be there.

I wanted to be less reactive so I could make more grounded decisions that truly reflect who I am and what I want. At home, I would be obsessively looking for information that I probably didn’t need to make my decision or asking everyone else but myself what I should do. I wouldn’t come to a decision sooner by leaving the retreat. In fact, it was likely that sitting in meditation for ten days would give me more clarity. I had gone to Vipassana to get in touch with myself and sitting quietly in the eye of the storm was just what I needed.

I cried a lot the first three days and I was a regular at noon interviews. Noon interviews were an opportunity to meet with the assistant teacher to raise any questions or concerns one might have regarding the meditation technique. I met with the teacher on eight of the ten days. She helped keep my anxiety and perfectionism in check and I am so grateful to her. She’d affirm all of the difficulty I was having telling me that “this is really hard work” and that she found it “much harder than giving birth.” Once I was back in touch with reasons for attending the program, this compassionate support from my teacher and my persistence were able to get me through.

Staying at the retreat required me to challenge my intolerance of uncertainty about what else might be going in the world and my desire to have everything in my life figured out as soon as possible (which means yesterday).  I was able to quiet the external pressures that were influencing me and obsessive fears about making the wrong choices. Ultimately, I think wading through all these anxieties and expectations will facilitate my ability to make healthy and realistic choices about my future.

If you are considering doing something of this nature, all I can say is that there will never seem like a convenient time to do it. Things are always likely to come up and I think that going into retreat makes even trivial things feel urgent. If you have the impulse and the inspiration to give this gift to yourself and you can make the time, do not let your ambivalence get in the way. I think most people who arrive at a first retreat are scared and ambivalent. It’s not easy to clear 10-12 days of your time so if you manage to get yourself to a retreat then it’s probably worth working through any doubts you have about your decision.

I’m glad that I did. I left with a strong foundation in a practice that has already begun to transform my life. At the end of the course, they encourage you to continue practicing for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening. I have only missed one morning since I returned and this is a level of commitment that I have never achieved with meditation. My willingness to make time for myself  and increased ability to tolerate being alone with my thoughts is the biggest change that I have seen since returning. I’ve always spent lots of time alone but being alone and observing my thoughts is a completely different thing. I’ve started to show up for myself every morning and face my fears head on. The ability to make time for my growth and having a means for finding peace within myself was definitely worth the ten days I had to “give up.” Really, it wasn’t a sacrifice at all and I’m already signed up for a one day Vipassana retreat next weekend.

*About the course

To give you some background on the course, it is over nine solid days of silence and meditation. Silence begins after dinner on Day 0 and ends a little before lunch on Day 10. During this time, you can speak to the manager if you forgot something like toothpaste and you can meet the meditation instructor for a few minutes at lunch for questions about the meditation technique. The gong sounds at 4 AM every morning and 10 PM is lights out. Meals and some free time to walk around the grounds provide breaks throughout the day. The course is completely free including room and board with the option to donate once you have completed the 10 days. Once you have completed the 10-day foundation course, you will have access to weekly one hours sits that are available in many cities and you can participate in 1, 3 and 5 day retreats.

Check www.dhamma.org to learn more or sign up for a course!

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Shameless Inspiration hits the streets of New York!

thanksI am back and I have missed my loving and shamelessly inspired community! I have so much to report from my ten days in silent meditation but first I have to tell you about an important initiative that started in Prospect Park today. I’ve said many times that Shameless Inspiration is about taking action and building a community so I wanted to get out there to connect and hear what people have to say. So, we took it to the streets to get the people of New York talking about gratitude, self-compassion, shamelessness and inspiration.

I was filled with nervous excitement as I left my apartment with my partner and my camcorder. When we arrived at Prospect Park, it was time to start approaching people and I felt all the fear of rejection and self-doubt well up inside me. Deep breaths…deep breaths…”Time to be shameless…,” I told myself and began soliciting the people passing to give two minutes of their time to talk to us about gratitude. My anxiety quickly dissipated as strangers began to engage and I felt so privileged that they would take the time to share and reflect on their stories and beliefs. We heard all types of stories of how people show gratitude and how it feels to be appreciated. In many cases, people shared stories of hardship and many emphasized the need to be grateful for what they do have, the importance of being present and appreciation for those who have supported them through difficult times.

The footage that we got on the Compassion Cam today and over the next couple of weeks will be available on GratiTUBE. I can’t wait to get this out there!!!

I was also fascinated about how all the people I saw in the park trying to make a difference and I want to take a minute and show some support for their initiatives.

One of the participants today, Dana Brundage, will be running the Boston Marathon as part of team Massachusetts Eye and Ear. She was my first GratiTUBE participant and I’m so grateful to her for sharing her story of being displaced by Hurricane Katrina. To support her, follow this link http://www.crowdrise.com/teameyeandear/fundraiser/DanaBrundage

I also met some people encouraging people to reclaim earth day. Check out this 10-day initiative starting on earth day: http://globalclimateconvergence.org/our-story/

Thanks to everyone who participated today. Thank you for keeping me inspired and trusting me to share your story with the world.

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Accepting our limitations: the path of the warrior

Texture - free for use - bokehed chandelierWhen I’m coping with a potential limitation, I think one of the hardest parts is not really knowing if I’m “trying hard enough” or if there’s still something more that I can do to make things better. For example, a year ago my rheumatologist told me that my chronic joint paint was the result of hyper-mobile joints and that there was nothing I could do about it. Hyper-mobile joints are subject to more wear and tear and that’s just the way it is. I’ve stopped running and I may never be able to safely do a yoga or dance class again. I’ve still spent the last year diligently doing pilates in the hopes of compensating for my hyper-mobility with strength. It has provided some relief but I know that there’s only so much that it can help. I am terrified of the day that my progress plateaus but, eventually, I will have to recognize and accept the limits of my body. This realization is so hard and so painful. It is deeply painful any time we have to come to terms with our limitations but resisting acceptance eventually starts to compound suffering.

Buddhists describe suffering as pain times resistance. A popular metaphor for resistance and suffering is an individual in a cage with no exit screaming hysterically and rattling at the bars in the hope of getting out. In essence, this person is causing themselves more pain and suffering by trying to control something that they have no control over. They are not getting out no matter how much they kick and scream. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with determination or hope. I am talking about how we respond to situations when we have exhausted the options and ourselves in our search for a solution and the difficult process of determining when it might be worth letting go. It seems like we often can’t know whether or not it’s possible to get out of the cage. Even when I’ve exhausted all the options, I still find it hard to let go of the idea that their might be something that can create a change or improvement. So what does a person do in these situations? Maybe we just have to weigh the costs and benefits of continuing to pursue change? How much suffering are we causing ourselves and how likely is it that our efforts will be futile? These are very difficult questions with no single right answer.

However, I do think it’s valuable to remember that choosing to pursue acceptance over change is not necessarily a submission to defeat. In the Shambhala meditation community, the development of one’s meditation practice is considered the path of the warrior. This is because finding peace and acceptance amidst pain, illness and all of life’s other difficulties is its own act of war. It’s a war against the habits we use to take us out of the present and to run from our fears.

This important to remember in our pursuit of self-compassion and self-acceptance. These acts are not for the faint at heart. I believe that self-compassion and acceptance is an act of courage, especially in our culture where self-criticism and constant self-improvement is so highly valued. So next time you start to push yourself beyond you limits out of anger or self-judgement, remember that being present with ourselves in a compassionate and accepting way is the path of the warrior.

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Make it RAIN!

drinkingtherainAs I explained in a previous post, self-improvement is one of the three strategies that Tara Brach suggests we use to run from shame. I want to introduce you to the other two ways we hide from shame and a practice that she suggests help to keep our heart open during difficult or threatening times.

Here’s the full list:

1. Fleeing through addiction to substances or experiences that numb intolerable feelings, denial of feelings or depressing feelings

2. Fighting our world out of feelings of deficiency such as judging or blaming ourselves. This might manifest as taking our feelings out on others and blaming them for your feelings.

3. Self-improvement, which is often the most sneaky. This would be always trying to be better person; a constant striving to be more acceptable, to conform or to please others.

Any of these sound familiar? I thought so and I hear ya.

Running from shame doesn’t make the feelings go away. It frequently makes it worse so Brach teaches four steps to facilitate coping with a sense of deficiency so that we can allow ourselves to encounter and experience difficult feelings. The four steps are represented by the acronym RAIN, which makes it a lot easier to remember when we are overwhelmed by shame or other difficult emotions. Check out the links below for a guided reflection through stages of RAIN and more thoughts from Brach on how to employ this tool.

R   Recognize what is happening

A   Allow life to be just as it is

I   Investigate inner experience with kindness

N  Non-Identification.

The Shambhala Sun has reprinted a very helpful excerpt from Brach’s book, True Refuge, which takes you through each of the four steps. Check it out at

http://shambhalasun.com/sunspace/?p=31087

Other resources from Tara Brach:

http://www.tarabrach.com/articles/RAIN-WorkingWithDifficulties.html

Brach, T. (Speaker). (2005). Radical Self-Acceptance: A Buddhist Guide to Freeing Yourself from Shame. [Audio recording]. Sounds True.

 

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Does Meditation Intimidate You?

meditatingalonebtwntreesToday I am leaving for a 10-day meditation retreat at the Ontario Vipassana Centre. Vipassana offer pay-what-you-can retreats around the world so it’s a pretty amazing opportunity to develop your meditation practice.

Have you ever considered meditating but felt too intimidated? If so, then I’d like to introduce you to Pema Chodron, a beloved Buddhist teacher, author and nun. When I started meditating several years ago, I listened to her recordings called “How to Meditate” and it was the first time that I felt meditation was accessible to me. It wasn’t about clearing my mind at all. It was about being present with what is going on and adopting the attitude that whatever is happening is okay. She explained that meditation is for any type of mind: wild, distracted, drowsy, moody and so on. I thought to myself, “my mind is all of these things! And Pema says that’s okay!” I felt liberated and I hadn’t even started meditating yet.

I think Pema Chodron’s humility is what really persuaded me to give meditation a try. She laughs at herself saying, “I have a lousy meditation that doesn’t bother me anymore…I just have this hopelessly, unworkable, non-meditative mind and I’ve devoted my whole life to it and talked to millions of people about it.” Her honest and hilarious words helped me let go of striving and perfectionism in my practice because she helped me to understand that meditation was about acceptance. She had me hooked. In listening to these words, I knew that meditation practice was an essential part of my path to self-acceptance and self-compassion.

Maybe you’re starting to warm up to the idea too? There are lots of resources out there if you want to get started. You can check out Pema Chodron’s “How to Meditate” series, visit the weekly meeting at a Shambhala center near you or check out dhamma.org if you want to try a residential retreat like I am doing. I think group meditation is a great place to get started if you benefit from structure and accountability.

I have a couple of posts prepared during my absence so don’t fret 🙂

I can’t wait to report back to you all. Be well.

Lily

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Beginner’s Mind

In-the-beginners-mindHello and thanks for stopping by! If you are reading this, then please accept my apologies for the premature publication of this post! Rather than take it down and confused everyone who received emails, I’ve decided to just update it later. More to come on beginner’s mind! Thanks for your understanding.

Please proceed to today’s post on Meditation by clicking here

Lily

 

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Share your story

1669672_285554028268514_2094545939_oShameless Inspiration is all about creating a community where we can support each other on our journey to cultivate self-compassion and shamelessness. One way to do this is by sharing affirmations/mantras on the “I am” page and I’d also like to open up the opportunity to contribute your personal stories.

1. Identify a specific life experience/story and ask yourself: What did I learn? How did this effect/illustrate my relationship to shame and self-compassion? Please tie it all together by summarizing your insights and what individuals experiencing similar difficulties might glean from your story. Take a look at my posts to get a sense of what I’m looking for or feel free to contact me with questions.

2. Keep in mind that the Shameless inspiration audience is diverse. Shameless deals with self-compassion and shame which every human experiences. Please do not submit posts that discuss religion, gender, self-improvement, political ideology or other perspectives that might limit the accessibility of your post.

3. Please send a little bio telling us about yourself that will go at the bottom of the page. A picture too please.

4. I may suggest edits to your post so you must be open to revisions.

5. Your submission must be completely original writing that has not been published anywhere for any reason. Online or otherwise.

6. Email your submission to shamelessinspiration@gmail.com.

7. Thanks for taking the time to grow and share on Shameless Inspiration.

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