#70: Retreat

I met someone on a train last summer who told me they meditated for an hour every day, and if they ever missed a day they would carry over the time to the next. “What do you do when you hit twenty-four hours?” I asked. They said: “Then I go on retreat.”

I can trace my current practice back to that brief encounter and conversation, which lasted the time it took to get to Sacramento from somewhere in Utah. I realized that the times I had tried meditating I’d enjoyed it, actually, and I started doing it regularly later that summer. Now try to sit for half an hour every morning.

This weekend I went on a training retreat, my first in the curriculum offered by my meditation center in the city. We listened to talks, alternated between sitting for and walking meditation and yoga, had one-on-one interviews about our practice with the training leaders. It’s the most meditation I’ve done in one weekend.

It doesn’t feel quite right to sit and stare at a computer screen after sitting so long and staring at the floor, but daily life can’t be ignored; it is what the meditation prepares me for. And daily practice is a chance to take the new forms I have been given and fill them out. It is also regular maintenance, to keep uncovered what was found.

What was found? For one, an appreciation of having teachers. For as long as I can remember I have tended toward the lone wolf. I’d go off (usually picking up a book or two) and try to figure it out on my own. I have learned many things like this but have gotten deep into few, and this guided weekend was more rigorous than I could have imagined for myself. The instructors could carry temporarily the load of planning and structuring the lessons, advising, observing, questioning when necessary. One of the biggest benefits of working with an instructor or mentor, or editor for that matter, is they leave behind a voice in your head that even when you’re alone again says, “How about you try doing it like this?” I am learning the value of apprenticeship, which for me is a big step. I am learning to ask for help.