(Or … How the Three Stooges Came to My Rescue … Again)
Let’s get one thing clear: I’ve never learned the finer points of meditation. Granted, when I was homeschooling my sons, we’d open the day with something that looked right: we sat cross-legged on pillows, set the timer, and closed our eyes for 5 minutes. But you can bet there was little or no “inner work” going on at all. (It did calm them down though, and we were able to focus on our studies better – so who knows?!)
When I signed up for the Vipassana Meditation retreat scheduled for early May at Vajrapani Institute here in Boulder Creek, all I knew about the practice was from the documentary, The Dhamma Brothers, which documents a Vipassana program in the Donaldson Correctional Facility outside of Birmingham, Alabama. I found the film to be inspiring, and was thoroughly intrigued by this (obviously) life-changing practice.
So, I signed up for the retreat, and was given a partial scholarship by the center. I was excited and just a bit scared – I knew it was going to be challenging. I really didn’t know just how scared I was until the morning of the first day, when the chime sounded for the first 40-minute session.
When my childhood heroes appeared in my mind, I knew that feeling of fear had to be strong. When I think back on the retreat from my vantage point today, May 30th, I see why: it was truly a life-changer…and the anticipation of such change can make anyone shake in their boots (or turn to their childhood heroes, the Three Stooges, for help)!
Why the Stooges?
My childhood was fraught with challenges and problems. I don’t want to say much more than this: my mother was an alcoholic, my father was a judgmental perfectionist, and a fictive uncle was a molester. I spent my young years hiding from one or all of them. I found comfort and safety in watching reruns of the classic Stooges shorts, in the afternoons.
Said uncle would have gone to work, and I could finally breathe a sigh of relief, settle down in front of the television, and watch “my pals” Larry, Moe and Curly get into mischief. To this day, when I hear their theme song, I feel the same feelings of relief and safety. Ah, what we learn in childhood!
Back to the Zafu and Zabuton
So, there I was, that first day of meditation; perched on my cushions. The initial chime sounded, and in came the Stooges. My brain found my allies, after all these years – and the first three or four meditation sessions were dominated by their efforts to clean and polish my brain. I visualized them removing my brain with a rusty winch, scrubbing the inside of my brain cavity (while Curly sang, off-key, as he always did), and clearing the folds on the surface of some indescribable “gunk”. As the sessions drew to a close, I’d find the rollicking threesome replacing my brain, closing the skull, and walking away from me, self-satisfied (and yet, arguing as they always did).
Granted, as the day wore on, I needed them less and less – but they were critical during those first few hours of meditation (I use that term loosely, because you and I know I wasn’t really meditating – I was visualizing and avoiding). The following day was easier, and the day after that even easier. I was now able to “focus on the breath” more often than not. I was able to reduce the number of random thoughts, and I was even able to manage the enormous, often debilitating physical pain (once I realized that the pain was my mind’s way of distracting me).
The Practice of Full Silence
Part of the 3-day journey involved taking a vow of silence. We did not speak to anyone for any reason – if there was a “big issue”, you were to hand a note to the course manager, or ask permission to break silence. Cato the Elder, that Roman orator (which means he knew how to talk persuasively) obviously knew the importance of silence: “I think the first virtue is to restrain the tongue; he approaches nearest to gods who knows how to be silent.”
How right he was. When it came time to “break silence” at the end of the retreat, I found it hard to give voice to my thoughts – I was tongue-tied, and really aware that much of what I said didn’t need to be said at all! We talk too much; it’s just that simple!
I look forward to the meditation retreat in July where I can adopt the practice again. That’s right – I’ve signed up for another retreat; two actually. The one in July is an Introduction to Meditation (which is the one I should have started with, obviously), and the second is in August; Mindful Eating – where we’ll be engaged in sitting meditation, walking meditation, yoga, and (you guessed it) mindful eating. It’s obvious to me that I’ve found a new way of being, and want to explore it more deeply.
In short, everything! My mind is more peaceful, and problems are no longer the root cause of rebellious “monkey mind”. I find that I can “roll with reality” more easily.
Granted, I continue to work on my meditation practice, putting in a short 10 minutes every day, at 4:00 am. And, it’s harder to do it alone (the group energy during the retreat – not to mention the commitment to the group – was empowering); yet I keep trying. Because it’s worth the effort!
Some mornings are more “successful” than others – sometimes I can’t quiet the mind as I’d like to. Yet, as I’ve been told, just the sincere attempt to meditate has remarkable benefits (even if you’re not a Buddhist). And without a doubt, in today’s hectic, distracted world, finding a quiet space is a gift.
How You Can Feel What I Feel
While it’s lovely to attend a retreat, many folks aren’t as lucky as I am. My retreat center is just about 12 miles away from my home! But, you can find the bliss of silence in your own home with a short daily meditation practice.
Here’s what I’ve learned: “sit” early in the day, when your mind is rested, and not overly full of “stuff” from a busy day. Download a meditation timer MP3 for free, and set up a quiet, comfortable corner of the room. When your initial chime rings out softly, begin to focus on your breath. Nothing else; if your mind wanders; gently pull it back, without judgment.
What about that “full silence”? Yes, you can bring that into your life too, in small doses. My life is easy: no kids, no husband; only a dog (who I talk to way too often). Maybe start with an hour of silence, or a half-hour. Whatever works. It’s liberating: don’t answer the phone, and don’t use the computer. Your goal is to quiet the mind, not “rev it up” with too much input.
You’ll find joy in silence, I assure you. My parents used to say “silence is golden” and I thought they were either crazy, or just trying to get me to be quiet, so they could talk. But now I know exactly what it means…silence is far more valuable than mere gold.
Kim Stacey is a freelance writer and copywriter, specializing in working with funeral service professionals. She is also a proud supporter of women in funeral service and is the founder of the Association of Women Funeral Directors. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. All images for this post were provided courtesy of the Vajrapani Institute.
If you enjoyed this post, you might also like to read: Five Ways To Benefit From Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone.