For 10 days, there would be absolutely no talking. And no reading, note taking, no electronics.
There would be nowhere to run and hide - from myself.
There would be meditation, from 4:30 in the morning until 9:00 at night. The breaks would consist of eating a vegetarian meal, quiet reflection in my room or simple walking.
Here’s what I saw - for my entire life, I treated “now,” like it was something to get through.
Now was a stepping stone to get to somewhere better. It was something to be endured. I was to grit my teeth and bear it.
I thought I’d be happy when I was rich. I thought I’d feel loved when I found that one person who completed me. I believed that joy was always on the other side of something else. It would always be better when something outside of me happened TO me. Or for me.
After I spent 10 days in complete Silence, I saw the hilarity of this line of thinking.
Leading up to this retreat I was arrogant and confidence about my abilities as a meditator. Which in itself is ridiculous and ironic. Though that’s the truth. I believed it would be a vacation. What I got was anything but vacation -- yet it gave me Everything.
During the first couple of days, I desperately wanted to crawl out of my own body. I wanted to ask questions. The end of each hour long meditation session couldn’t come soon enough. The practice was to just breathe. I was to focus on each and every breath. In. Out. Feel what it feels like to be breathing. Notice thoughts that come into my head and let them pass, like clouds in the sky.
And what was actually happening was that I was holding my breath. I would do random countdowns, desperately hoping that the end of my countdown would bring me closer to being able to move and walk around again. I was trying to time travel. No. I was time traveling. I wasn’t there. I wasn’t seated, comfortable and breathing. I was playing out past scenarios in my head. Blaming myself for things I “should” have done differently. Then I was projecting into the future. My mind was going 1,000,000 miles per minute. Since my body wasn’t getting somewhere I wanted my mind to be getting somewhere.
And then when I was on break in my room, I found myself wanting the structure of that peaceful meditation temple. I found that when I was walking from place to place I wanted my legs to not be hurting. If only my legs didn’t hurt, then I’d be happy and able to truly dive deep into this meditation thing. I longed for spending time with friends and family. Even though when with friends and family, I’m the first to leave the party because I tell myself that I need to be alone. (Even as I typed this very sentence I thought to myself “I must go get that other keyboard I like so much, my writing experience would be so much better if I just had that other keyboard,” - note for reference, i’m gratefully typing on a beautiful relatively new and totally functional Macbook Air).
When we were eating, I wanted to be eating different things. I have been committed to eating a ketogenic diet for the last year. At the retreat, vegetarianism is practiced. I “knew” that I’d be much more satisfied with my retreat experience if I wasn’t being forced to eat devilish (and absolutely delicious) carbohydrates .
I literally wanted to be any moment except here, now and in this. I wanted to be in the future when I could gleefully interact with friends and family. I dragged up stuff from the past 32 years of my life and made myself so wrong for the way that I’d behaved and acted. How could I not have appreciated the beautiful, wonderful gift of TALK. It seemed crazy to have tried to be alone, when now that I was so alone, I wanted to be talking.
And on and on it went.
During the middle of the 10 day cycle, I began to experience a wild roller coaster. I’d experienced a lovely euphoria during a meditation. So much so that after the meditation ended, I just kept sitting there and kept meditating because it felt so good that I couldn’t bear to not be doing that.
And then I started to see.
I mean, I started to really see.
That my life wasn’t about who I was committed to being and acting as such. My life was about chasing comfort and ease. Even though I had experience that taught me that feeling truly ALIVE was generally on the other side of doing uncomfortable things, I still craved the quiet comfort of the familiar.
I didn’t want to be happy, I wanted life to be easy.
I didn’t want to be in love, I wanted to delude myself into thinking that I didn’t need anyone else or anything.
I didn’t want to build a business to impact people. I wanted to build a business to get money. And once I had money I wanted to be perceived as a rich business guy who had money. I wanted people to know me.
I didn’t want to contribute to other people. I wanted them to do it alone like I thought I needed to.
I didn’t want to understand people, I wanted to be right.
I didn’t want authentic human connection, I wanted to be seen as smart.
I didn’t listen, I evaluated what was said for why they wrong wrong, or dumb, or not as enlightened as I am.
I didn’t want joy and satisfaction, I wanted control.
I didn’t want sex, I wanted to be validated that I was good enough to be chosen.
And during my life to this point, I had a delusional view of the person I thought I was, versus the person that I was actually being in the world.
I genuinely viewed myself as very smart, very charming, very kind, very loving, very compassionate, very well read, a pleasure to be around, the fun and funny guy. Enlightened. Strong. Bold. Courageous.
And what I was actually doing was hiding. Chasing comfort. Subtly diminishing people through sarcasm rather than empowering them. Making them feel bad so I would feel good. I was never seeing myself the way the world saw me, I was playing a movie character in my own head and it wasn’t real.
Going deeper, I saw that that any identity I strapped to myself was fleeting.
I was once a baby. That was my identify. But now I’m a grown man, so I can’t actually “be” my body.
I thought I was my mind and my beliefs. And then I saw that I once believed in Santa Claus, so I couldn’t be my mind and beliefs if those changed.
I thought I was a “victim” of lyme disease, though I was once an enthusiastic athlete and picture of vital health, so I couldn’t be that.
I saw that every time i looked for “me,” -- the identity, system of beliefs, mind, or body that I believed I was, it was fleeting.
I wasn’t actually any of those things.
I behaved that way, in a moment. Or maybe a bunch of moments. Though it always changed. It was always in flux and flowing. There was an impermanent nature to the quality of the universe that I had been missing up until then.
And that’s when it hit me.
In every single moment, we can bend reality, space and time to our will.
The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man.”
Every moment we experience is a gift. Every moment is a rebirth. Every moment is an opportunity to recommit to being exactly who we want to be -- and act like it.
I wasn’t my past. I wasn’t my future. I wasn’t my body, mind or emotions.
I was simply presence --- NOW. And everything else was stuff I made up in order to feel grounded in some way.
Fret not. This is a gift.
I forget my lesson regularly, as humans do. I find myself believing that I AM something (permanently something, that is).
Then I wake up. And remember that I only thought something. Or experienced something. Or said something. And the very next moment I could be reborn. I could choose to behave differently. I was not my patterns. Not what I said. Not what I did. Yes, they were things I did and said but they WERE NOT ME. They were just things I said or did.
Every moment is a gift.
Every moment is a chance to redefine reality.
THIS moment isn’t something to get through. This moment is everything.
What does the air feel like swirling around your skin?
What is the sensation you feel in your body?
What does your breath feel like on your upper lip?
Is there REALLY anything to worry about in this very moment?
That stuff you’re making up in your mind; it probably won’t ever come to pass. And if it does, it will most certainly pass anyway.
We spend so much time in negative anticipation of bad things to come, or of good things to happen. And what we forget is that those moments are fleeting as well.
Now is the only thing that actually exists.
We as humans are thinking machines.
Let’s practice acting like BEING machines.
Be with each other. Now.
Do the thing you are doing, without wanting it to be different. Or making it wrong. Or striving to just look good instead of being honest.
Just be here now, in this.