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Meditation – Story

I ambled gently amongst zombies roaming the grounds like straight-jacketed patients at the mental asylum in Halloween.  If you drove by a meditation weekend retreat you’d see dozens of plainly dressed adults walking mindlessly or mindfully back and forth in a straight line over and over again.  It’s eery to the observer, but calming to the meditator.  
Walking meditation is just one part of the experience.  Picture the beginning of the weekend.  You enter sprawling grounds on a large multi-acre complex in the middle of nowhere in colonial Massachusetts.  Upon approaching the house you feel like you’re back at your 1st day of college.  Bags lay everywhere, uncomfortable adults socialzie, retreat leaders direct traffic.  You check in, find the schedule, and applaud internally when you learn you have two more hours to talk to other humans.  “Silence doesn’t begin until 8 pm.  We get dinner first!”  
You are not a vegetarian.  The food is vegetarian.  By the end of the weekend you’ll wonder, “Why am I not a vegetarian?”  I did not miss meat.  Worlds moved.  Breakfast is oatmeal, yogurt, raisins, fresh peanut butter, seeds.  Lunch is the potato-leak-quiche, more peanut butter, and salads.  Dinner is red lentil soup, fresh made bread, and fruit.   
A tall, old Navy Sea Captain with slicked back Steven Seagal hair sits down in front of my table for that 1st dinner.  “I got the call this morning that they had a spot for me.  I got on a flight from South Carolina up here to New England right away.”  The Navy vet and I continued our back and forth exchange on our impending first-time meditation weekend experience.  He politely exited the table saying, “Thanks.  I guess you’re the last person I’ll talk to for a couple days.”    
Enter the dark, curly-haired Housewife of New Jersey and her friend, Mr. Potato-Head Serial-Killer Zombie.  Sammie the Housewife was a regular retreater along with Mr. Potato-Head, whose name I didn’t catch and words I couldn’t understand.  We exchanged pleasantries while munching on our red lentil soup until I realized I needed to exit the scene before Mr. Potato Head made me a weekend target. 
What lurks behind those eyes no one knows...empty air or a serial killer!
What lurks behind those eyes no one knows…empty air or a serial killer!
While meditation is an inward journey, your outward interactions are marked by a deeper focus on others.  The constant voice of your ego quiets down.  You have a clearer channel for communication.  You feel more connected.  Empathy increases.  Relationships improve.  Bonds strengthen.  This is meditation.
On this 3-day meditation retreat, Friday is easy.  Sunday is easy.  Saturday is not.  It’s not really 3 days.  Friday night starts at 8 pm.  Sunday ends at 12 pm.  Saturday is all-day meditation.  The schedule is posted only at a bulletin board in the front room of the complex.  The meditation guru, a calm, funny woman with 30 years of meditation experience, warns you,  “The Saturday schedule is not exciting.  Don’t go back checking the board expecting it to change.  It won’t.”  The schedules reads:
06:00 am – Wake-up
06:30 am – Breakfast
07:15 am – Working period
08:30 am – Seated meditation
09:15 am – Posture practice
10:00 am – Mindful movement
11:00 am – Walking meditation
12:00 pm – Lunch
02:00 pm – Seated meditation
02:45 pm – Walking meditation
03:30 pm – Seated meditation
04:15 pm – Mindful movement
05:00 pm – Seated meditation
06:00 pm – Dinner
07:15 pm – Dharma talk
08:15 pm – Walking meditation
09:00 pm – More practice (optional)
Eat. Sleep.  Meditate.  That’s your life.  What’s Mindful Movement?  Meditating while stretching.  What’s Posture Practice?  Learning how to sit properly to meditate.  What’s a Dharma talk?  Listening to the guru talk about Buddhist meditation principles.  All-meditation.  All-the-time. 
All that meditation is tiring.  I had to cut the walking meditation periods short to hit some squats and WAKE UP!  I inhaled lunch to make an espresso, take a nap, and rush through a “mindful” forrest walk.  All this just to have enough energy to finish the day.  Monks are superheroes.
My favorite part of the weekend might have been sitting on an old wooden bench, away from all the people, in the pitch dark drinking tea, and eating remnants from my lunch in Portsmouth, RI.
The weekend taught me much about myself.  I saw clearly my default neural loop of continuously planning ahead and could assess the benefits and drawbacks from a 3rd-party perspective, free of ego and emotional attachment.  Meditation on a smaller scale can yield similar benefits.  Remember, it’s just breathing.  It’s breathing with bigger, badder, better benefits.  
In the end I felt my feet more connected to the ground.  I learned to appreciate vegetarian food cooked with love.  I saw my neurotic planning ahead to maximize efficiency for what it was – a waste of the best moments of my life.  Now I breath my air a little deeper just breathing, walk my dog a little lighter just walking, and see my world a little clearer just seeing.
If you want to learn how to build a simple meditation habit in one minute per day, read this follow-up post.