why meditate?

I had promised myself I’d do a meditation retreat back in May, when I’d finally have some time. But, May is a festive time for university people and I had a lot of celebrating to do. Then it was June and I am a summer girl. I couldn’t dedicate a week or more to sitting on my ass inside, pining for the sunshine outside. So, I waited. By August it got cool and less sunny and I pretty much had to do it. My psyche was pressing me. There was an in-city retreat at Shambhala, where I’ve sat the most, so I could go to yoga in the early morning and be there to sit at 8:30am. Easy.

It’s nice to remind myself why I didn’t sit a retreat in May, because I’d felt a bit delinquent for not. Had I the clarity sitting brings then, I would have handled some stresses of the last few months differently. But I also would have missed my sunshine and swimming, and honestly, this was one of the best summers ever. I’m not going to put in a for a change.

I did two retreats back to back. The first upstate, solitary. I read, wrote longhand, sat (meditated), did my yoga (Mysore, before breakfast), swam, and hiked. After, I took the train from there straight to the Shambhala Center for the in-city retreat, without stopping at home. This was with people, some I knew. But it was, for the most part, silent.

“Why do you meditate?” people ask, and it’s not the same people who ask why I do yoga. For whatever reason, I feel that the meditation question is much less loaded than the yoga question. But it’s more difficult to explain. The practices aren’t separate, in my mind. They are, and they aren’t. For me, one isn’t possible or complete without the other, and their histories are bound up in one another as well. Perhaps I’m avoiding the question here.

I meditate because it puts me in touch with me and what matters. Not me in the me me me sense, but me in the soul sense. In the deeply connected sense. In the meaning sense. Life is full of so many distractions that I forget very easily what is important. Sitting puts me back in touch. It brings up things I’ve avoided because they are difficult, hard, or unwanted. I face them, and they dissolve. This does not necessarily happen consciously. Though it can. Hatha (physical) yoga can do this for me, or start to do this, especially if pranayama is involved. But to really get anywhere, I have to sit.

When I went upstate for part one, there was a lot going on in my head. Lots of ideas to process, relationships to figure out. I also just needed to decompress from time in the city. I’d been crashing at a friend’s place for a few days, and relished having my own space again. I liked it up there and felt safely wrapped in the beauty of it. Being silent and alone (albeit with people around) brought back, at times, a feeling of loneliness I associate with traveling alone on long trips in my 20s. I don’t feel this loneliness when I go it alone at home, in my own city and space, even if I take days to myself. Perhaps this is because I rarely go offline for that time, or because of the familiarity of it and the distractions of home. My thoughts and feelings around this are yet to be explored. It’s part of a budding discussion with a friend who says that meditation is the only time, substantially, he doesn’t feel the void of isolation. He’s meditated quite a bit more than I have (as far as long retreats go), and he also experiences isolation and loneliness differently than I do. We’ve yet to see.

It’s heavy and achy, that loneliness, and I don’t like it. I usually try to push it away. When I don’t, I feel something underneath that I haven’t quite gotten to because as soon as I get near, it shifts into something else. Maybe this makes no sense to a non-meditator, and if not, I am sorry. Maybe I need to back up and explain from a non-meditator’s perspective. This is getting long already, so, next time.

This is part i of why meditate, thoughts on my two 1-week back-to-back meditation retreats. part i, part ii, part iii, part iv & part v. An abridged version for moderns exists at Shambhala New York.

 

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