Monday, April 16, 2007

The stress of meditation

Those of you who have been regular readers may find it surprising to find out that I spent the weekend at a meditation retreat. In virtual silence. On my own. With no access to chocolate.

I have been going to meditation classes for a few months now and could see the benefits of learning how to relax instead of clenching my jaw and cracking my crowns as a way of getting to sleep each night. As such, I was interested in signing up for 'level 2' despite my disappointment at not receiving a certificate or award of some kind for completing the first level. Surely our teacher John had been watching us intently, and would hand out a chocolate frog or smiley face sticker for, oh I don't know, the 'Still-est Meditator' or the 'Person Who Looks Like They're Doing It The Best'?

There was a 'Finding Life Balance' retreat advertisement on the whiteboard and he assured me that my lack of experience, high-chatter-to-intelligent-thought ratio and non-mung-bean-munching persona would cope well enough on a 2 day meditation retreat.

Friday night found Love Chunks winding his way through the Adelaide Hills, with me, Sapphire and Dogadoo in tow. The retreat was sort-of on the way to Victor Harbor, where Sapph was going to spend the first week of her school holidays with my folks and LC and Dogadoo decided to stay with them for the weekend also.

As the station wagon roared off in a cloud of dust into the darkness, I was greeted by one of the teachers, Ann, who showed me into my room. Well, I *almost* stepped into the room until I saw the huge, man-eating huntsman spider leering at me from the top of the sliding door. "Erm, unless he can be err, removed somehow, I don't think I'll be able to sleep in here." Ann tried her best to persuade the Creepy Devil Beast to willingly enter a yoghurt container, but he gave her the big finger and scuttled away behind the curtains. "Oh, he'll be OK," Ann smiled at me encouragingly.
"Oh, I'm sure he will but I won't. I noticed that Room 3 looked empty?"

Having achieved that crucial first victory, I was fully revved up for a weekend of serious meditation. About a dozen of us gathered in the hall, shyly smiling at each other, but not talking. Our rooms and the communal bathroom had signs tactfully advising us to "....respect each others' needs for a retreat by keeping conversation and noise to a minimum." Ann and Robyn also told us that we did not need to chat over our meals, but instead see them as a chance to concentrate on the food, take longer to eat it and enjoy the tastes, sights, sounds etc of the meal and of the bush surroundings. We were told too that most people attending their retreats did not wish to reveal why they were there, what job they did or anything else that you'd mostly ask someone in a social situation, so we were released from the wear and tear of empty social chit-chat.

We had a couple of meditation sessions and, by the wild-and-crazy Friday night time of 9pm, it was time for us all to head back to the retreat block to our beds. As per usual, I had a night of tossing and turning - too hot in my uber-arctic-condition sleeping bag and too cold with just the sheets. Elsewhere was complete silence as I tiptoed to the loo and back several times. My dorm mates must have thought a constipated elephant was patrolling the hall.

Despite this, I did get up at 6.45am to shower and get ready for the 7.30am stretch and meditation session on Saturday morning. The bathroom was a co-ed one - something I hadn't experienced since uni days. The sharing with blokes didn't worry me as much as having the toilets in the same room as the showers. How were we supposed to ~ ahem ~ "let it all out" when other people were trying to get clean? Also, it felt very strange to be cleaning my teeth with toothpaste and drool all over my face and smiling like a rabies-infested Al Jolson at a half-naked bloke getting into the shower to my left and hearing the drops-and-plops of a very genteel-looking lady in the 'engaged' cubicle on my right.

At 7:30 we were all at the hall, still shyly smiling at each other and only venturing as far as a whispered, 'excuse me' in the huddle to kick off our shoes at the shelves by the door. Afterwards, at breakfast we were all feeling supremely relaxed and were busy eating, drinking hot tea and trying to 'just be', when Nathan - not me, it's nice to write for once - got his bread stuck in the toaster too long and "REE REE REE REE REE REE REE REE REE REE REE REE!" went the fire alarm, jolting us all of our relaxed states. Hell, someone even said "Oh dearie me," out loud; most likely Nathan.

Eventually calm was restored and classes resumed. One of the practicals was to walk outside in a meditative state, which, for me, was to slow it r-i-iii-ght down to 1) lifting foot; 2) moving foot; 3) placing foot - said like a mantra. My eyes were supposed to be softly focused on the ground about 2m in front of me, but my failure to achieve this meant that I got to spot this gorgeous little blue wren and about six of his little brown girlfriends hopping about a bush. (why are the males and females of the bird world around the wrong way? Why is it that the blokes look all colourful and gorgeous and the poor little females are so drab - topic for a future blog maybe).

The food was fabulous. Mainly vegetarian which meant soups, lentil-based curries, rice, salads and fruit. By late afternoon, my digestive system was struggling to cope with the night before's dinner of lentil soup and that day's lunch of lentil dahl and I was seriously worried about how in the hell I'd be able to get through our 'deep relaxation visualisation' without letting rip a butt blast or two...... Bless Robyn's sweet heart - we were allowed to lie on the floor, put our legs up on chairs, cushions or blankets.... Let's just say that there's one poor grey polarfleece rug wedged underneath me like a doorjam that got the full force of my silent-but-deadly arse emanations. Hopefully it served to soak up the odours, but if not, at least the voluntary vow of silence taken by us all meant that no-one could voice any objections.

We were given time for a walk, or sleep or do what we liked (bar making any noise) before dinner. I stumbled along in my bright aqua crocs along a cornflake-crunchy, parched brown paddock of roo poos and gum tree bark to find a shady little spot away from everyone in order to try my best at 'being in the moment.' All was well for a while - I heard sheep baaaing, horses whinnying and many different bird calls. The air was warm, the sun bright and I was slowly sinking into a dreamy state. But then it happened - the distant tweets turned into raucous squawking as an enormous flock of cockatoos decided to choose my gum tree to land in. The ominous 'Pfft pfft pfft pfft' sounds of bird turds dropping all around me. Holding a particularly large chunk of bark over my head, I ran for cover - not an easy feet in crocs, believe me. If it had been rain instead of poo, I'd have had two handy little dinghys to sit in and paddle to safety.

Dinner that night featured more adventurous salads and lentil-based deliciousness and the festive noises being made by my lower intestines hinted at the interesting challenges that lay ahead.

On Sunday, I again made it to the early morning session and was immediately in a panic - yoga! Not even the Queen could do a yoga session of downward dog, warrior pose etc and not let a few 'parps' or two slip out! As I'd discovered overnight in my tiny room the night before, mine weren't likely to be quiet or discreet, let alone acceptable to folk who'd been standing outside breathing in lungfuls of country air with contented expressionns on their well-rested faces.

Luck was on my side again. The yoga session was a mostly lying down and relaxed and Meredith near me was soon promptly asleep, her snoring not unlike a slow burp. It was my opportunity to let a few pearlers go and hope that they'd be silent so as not to identify me as their creator, but instead be blamed on her supine state instead. It was indeed a blessing that Meredith's dreams were my dutch ovens and my gut was now only half the size of a basketball and slightly less dangerous to touch.

Ann was taking us through a meditation in which we were to find a warm, safe place to feel the sun on our skin, soaking into us and moving through out our bodies. That part was working, right up until she said, 'Now imagine a soft, light rain, washing down from your head, face, torso, arms and legs, washing, washing, dripping, soft and continous...."
"Hey hey heeeeeey!" My thinking mind shoved my sensing mind out of the way and accusingly blurted out, "We're suffering a severe drought here right now - we should be saving our rainwater, not wasting it." The internal scene worked better when my brain shifted the scenario to a dark room and a warm bed with no alarm clock, no migraine and no work to do.

Just before our farewell lunch on Sunday, I again stumbled down to the gum tree to visit my now-favourite mellowing out spot. Instantly, a herd of neighbouring sheep came trotting towards me, the barbed wire fence the only thing separating us. "Hello Human Thingy - we're here for our hay", they seemed to say, their long faces looking at me with expectation.
"Sorry sweeties, I don't have anything for you." They still waited, very still, which gave me a chance to count them - 43 in all, and all with their beady, sheepy little eyeballs on me. It made me simultaneously feel very awkward and also a bit sorry for them (especially seeing as there was no grass to be had on their dried out paddock and we'd been lavishly washing ourselves in rainwater during our last session), so I waved good bye to them (I know, it's stupid - who on earth waves to sheep?) and bumbled and stumbled my way up the poo-strewn hill to the dorm, farting like a volvo all the way (you take your chances when you get them, trust me).

"Now that your formal retreat with us has ended, you are now allowed to talk freely over lunch." Instead of the verbal diarrhoea I'd been expecting, I instead stayed fairly quiet, preferring to sit and listen to the others and answer their questions if they were directed at me. Little did I know that I'd spent the weekend alongside a doctor, a palliative nurse, a psychologist, three IT experts, an artist, a naturopath, a builder, a surveyor, a teacher and a school principal. It showed me how hard it was to label people when they're barefoot, wordless and all wearing trakky daks.

Love Chunks picked me up and found me serene, refreshed and so very glad to see him. Whilst it was good to go into retreat and meditation mode, it was his face and Sapphire's face that rose up in my mind every time I closed my eyes in every session. Unfortunatley for him, my chatterbox had finally woken up, and he was verbally assaulted for every second of the hour long drive home. I loved him even more when he shared his dark chocolate Lindt balls with me when we settled down onto the sofa...


tom said...

I went to the Godiva chocolate store today and just browsed around, by the time I left I felt calm, totally relaxed!!

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