The Recovering Meditator
June 2013
illustration

“Dynamic Equilibrium”, bronze
© 

In April, my husband, Denis, gave me the gift of a one week silent meditation retreat at Gaia House in Devon. I've never been on such a retreat before and initially thought I would go crazy not being able to talk for a week, especially as the course outline said it was ‘not for beginners’! However, I quickly discovered that by having the normal mechanisms of a ‘civilised’ social context removed (i.e. no small talk at mealtimes in order to make myself look good or seem better than others), I actually felt a huge relief. I didn't need to pretend that I was confident and had my life sorted. In fact, the routine of each day was so pared down, to the simplicity of eating, sleeping, going to the bathroom and long periods of meditation, that there was no running away from the truth: I have no idea what my life is about or why I am here.

It was an astonishing experience to spend a week with around sixty other people, in silence, and at the end of it to feel a sense of familiarity, that somehow I knew them better than even some members of my family… which of course makes complete sense when I realised that the silence allowed me to quieten the constant chatter in my mind so I could see the reality of how we are all connected via the web of life.

The greatest gift we all have in life is choice. What matters is to choose to do something that has meaning for me and allows me to flourish in the here and now. For example, one simple action I take when I am feeling overwhelmed is to listen to the sounds of central London outside my flat and catch the moments of stillness, when there is no traffic or noise.

The most important lesson of the week for me was one of hope and humility. Often in my work as a life coach, I get to thinking that I know what my clients ‘should do’ to be aware and make the changes they need to make. Yet, I am not living in their body… so how can I possibly know? And how humbling it was to recognise that if I can choose to do the work for my own evolution, than each other person has that potential too. I do not need to force anything. While guidance and support is crucial, each person will have their experience of what is meaningful to them and can make that choice for themselves.

Returning to London following a week of glorious Devon sunshine, stunning green countryside views and chirping birds, was a shock. The day after I got back, I was walking around Leicester Square without my usual ‘protection filters,’ and it was frightening. There are so many people in London; hundreds and thousands of people, everywhere, me included, flowing through the streets somehow without bumping into each other, like a colony of ants. It is scary to really look at the reality of life, to let down the guard of automatic filters our mind has in place, and still, we can all choose to let go… drop the past and begin with a blank canvas and new paints.

Letting go necessitates a period of grief, to understand that events in the past are just that, in the past. They do not need to be carried in the present or into the future. It is possible to clear the ground and let go of the stories we keep repeating about our disappointments and upsets from the past. What we get attached to is the story, because it becomes how we define who we are. Why not accept that we don't know? And then trust our experience of the present; give ourselves time and space with no conditions.

During the past weeks of being a recovering meditator, I have noticed a knotted vulnerable feeling in my ‘belly,’ as well as the aches and pains my body has been suffering the past six months or so. And I've thought, instead of labelling this feeling as ‘anxiety’ or ‘nervousness’ or ‘illness’ or ‘stress,’ why not accept it without the need to attach words and a meaning? Why not expand the space to let myself experience the feeling and know that in time, it will pass, and then the next emotion will surface.

On one occasion, I went to the dentist and the receptionist was kneading her stress reliever, a soft plastic object made to be pressed and released with the hand whenever she felt stressed. Denis, who had talked to her about the benefit of meditation previously, observed that maybe she was getting into the habit of feeling stressed in order to use the stress reliever, rather than the other way round.