Second day of the meditation retreat. We just had a delicious lunch and now I have an hour for myself. I decided to chop down some thoughts. It´s quite hard to adjust to a schedule after 8 months on the road. I was actually missing some routine. And here we go. A fully planned daily schedule for 7 days. Starting with my utterly noisy alarm clock getting off at 4:30 am and finishing with the send off to bed at latest 8:30 pm. A thing that you learn on a meditation retreat is that despite the strict schedule you don´t rush to be on time. If you do rush, you miss the whole point of being here, which is to practice awareness and mindfulness and realizing that you can be in a meditative state not only when you´re sitting quietly with your legs crossed, but also when you´re walking, cleaning, starring, eating, playing, well basically you learn to be in a meditative state in whatever you are doing. Life is constant meditation so to speak.
With a routine set out for you, food being prepared for you, no external distractions whatsoever and strict silence that you have to abide to, you are left no choice but to deal with yourself. I never imagined it to be this hard to be honest. I mean I love silence. And I love spending time with myself. But how do I usually spend my time when I´m alone? I do sports, I read, I cook… in short: I´m busy. To try to meditate all day long is a totally different story. Sitting meditation. Walking meditation. Eating meditation. Working meditation. Mindfulness in motion, how they call it, or simply yoga, is probably the only hour of the day in which I feel 100% comfortable. That´s because I don´t have to step out of my comfort zone doing a yoga work out. But also the toughest undertaking of the day, 5 hours of sitting mediation, is slowly getting better. At least I think it is. This morning I was even able to sit in the lotus position for the entire one-hour session without moving (not that it is required to sit with your legs crossed in order to mediate, but still…). Some people meditate for 10, 15 hours or longer without a single movement. They are in a state beyond time and space, called trance state. I don´t know how they do it. After one hour of meditation my legs and feet are deep asleep and it always takes a couple of minutes until they wake up and I can move again. Well, I don´t know if I´m ever going to be able to reach that state, but like with all things in life, mastery is achieved through practice. What makes meditating particularly demanding though, is that there is nothing really to achieve, at least physically. And that´s the whole point. As soon as the mind is set towards achieving something – like we are all used to – you´re prone to fail. When you start a new sport, say bouldering, you either take a lesson or you go with someone who´s already good at it. You get some tips and advice and you practice. You fall down and you try again. You have a role model, your friend or your teacher who you can measure yourself against. And you witness even the slightest improvement immediately. Or, if you decide to start on your own, you will quite likely look at others and try to copy their moves. The same goes for dancing, or learning an instrument or even just running. Sooner or later you will see improvements and you always have someone you can measure yourself against, even if it´s just your own performance. When meditating, we are learning that even the perception that you have a body is a hindrance. The secret of meditation is the ability to detach yourself from the perception of “me”. Meaning my body, my mind my thoughts and so on. Everything your teacher seems to be able to tell you, when learning the Samatha meditation, is to put all your attention to a single point of focus, in most cases your breath and to just watch your breathing, be curious about your breathing, be aware of your in-breaths and out-breaths as well as the pauses in between. And above all you are not supposed to control your breathing. If you digress, you just refocus on your breath again. You visualize how with every in-breath, you are taking in energy and life and with every out-breath you are releasing detrimental emotions like anger or frustration or bad energy in general. So here I sit, trying to focus on my breath. However, when I put too much attention to my breathing, for example by trying to count my breaths up to ten and back to one without being interrupted by my thoughts (if you do get interrupted by your thoughts, which happens all the time, then you start counting all over again), then I run the risk of falling asleep. It´s just like when you´re lying in bed at night and you can´t sleep and you´re starting to count sheep. I does sound easy but I invite you to try yourself. On the other hand, when I´m not mindful enough, then I just wander off with my thoughts. As our teacher says: This is called daydreaming, not meditation! Even when you´re not a skilled meditator, however, you get to experience one phenomenon from the very beginning and this is: I am not my thoughts! My thoughts come and go and my mind is just a station where they take a stop. Now it´s entirely up to me to send those thoughts off again. Just having this awareness and realizing it´s implications for everyday life is mind-blowing! It fundamentally improves your ability to deal with all kinds of emotions in your daily life, be it frustration, anger, envy, jealousy or fear. You can pause, say hello to your emotion that you are feeling right now and you decide whether you want your state of mind to be dictated by this emotion or not and you just send it along. Well, easier said then done I guess.
The next meditation session is awaiting me. Walking meditation. Walking really slowly, you mindfully observe how you make one step after another without getting distracted by your surroundings. Seeing 20 people walking apathetically in snail´s pace and realizing that I´m one of them gives me quite a hard time still. But I also thought Danish was a ridiculous and absurd language after my first lesson. I guess that´s how it is with many things you learn anew.