by Laura Samper G.
Listen, O drop, give yourself up without regret,
and in exchange gain the Ocean.
Listen, O drop, bestow upon yourself this honor,
and in the arms of the Sea be secure.
Who indeed should be so fortunate?
An ocean wooing a drop!
In God’s name, in God’s name, sell and buy at once!
Give a drop, and take this Sea full of pearls.
A Meditation Retreat for Beginners is a Roller Coaster…
Just be present. It seems like an obvious statement, where else can I be? You could be thinking about your past relationship and why he or she left, or why you sabotaged the whole thing. Maybe you are thinking about your next step in life, and what are you going to do when you quit your job and take that leap of faith that you fantasize about. Perhaps you wonder about the things you are missing and how you are not enough, or maybe how others are not good enough for you. Is it about who is posting what on Instagram? Maybe you just remembered you did not feed the cat this morning. So yes, you could be anywhere but here.
A week before I came to the 10-Day Hridaya Silent Meditation Retreat, I decided that going to an amusement park for some roller coaster action would be a good idea. However, vertigo comes quickly for me and things can go from fun to painful in just seconds. It’s not the height that I’m afraid of, but the free fall. I’m good at planes and actually enjoy every moment when taking off and landing. This time, I thought, why not? I’m about to be silent for ten days straight, so having a good screaming session could be as liberating. The coaster, named “Superman,” was my first and only one. It was a typical ride with long curves and deep falls. Even though I closed my eyes most of the time, I could feel everything inside my chest, especially when we were slowly going up for a sudden and unexpected 45-degree fall. The moments of being at the edge of falling felt like a deep void that invaded my entire core with absolute silence. I was terrified but also excited.
I screamed when I could and felt relieved at the end. Sure, I was not going to put myself in that kind of situation again, but I realized that maybe it was not vertigo but my own thoughts that did not allow me to just go with it entirely. I mean, the line was full of kids from 8 to 15 years old telling me that this was easy and that I should just do it. Besides, my friends keep complaining about my overthinking skills. But I said no! I am about to turn 30 and there are more serious things that I need to do (or so I thought).
Morning Meditation (for Overthinkers)
I arrived the Sunday before the retreat began. I did not have any expectations and did not want to look the schedule so my mind would be a bit freer (Me 1 – Overthinking 0). I knew that I would be meditating a lot and doing some hatha yoga, plus I’d be just beside the sea on the Pacific Coast of Mexico giving myself some quality time, whatever that meant. But, with my first two-hour morning meditation on Monday, all my castles in the sky disappeared.
What am I doing here? Said overthinking voice. This is going to be terrible, I can barely sit up straight… I’ve been meditating when I allow myself to find the time but nothing very committed, I confess. All my spirituality swirled around reading Jiddu Krishnamurti (highly recommended tough love), attending a Sufi group in Mexico City (a story for another day), and trying to be present (when I remembered to). But all in all, this was purely intellectual material, even though I was sure I was being the most spiritual person that I knew. I would soon realize that actual seeking happens in the present tense.
I was yearning for silence, for peace of mind, for solitude. But it was not going to happen unless I was fully there. During the retreat, I learned about Ramana Maharshi’s method of self-discovery through inquiry, which means asking yourself “Who am I?” in a conscious way. You think you know who you are or what you are supposed to do mostly in this way: get a college degree, get married, have kids and die. Or probably, just grow, work, and die. But this is just a tale. So, when you do Self-Inquiry (asking “Who am I?”), the first answer is usually: man/woman, young/old, cool/lame, hot/ugly and so on. Yes, but what about the rest of you, the one behind all of this? I kept asking myself…
With Ramana’s method, I started to feel a bit more connected to something that resembled peace. But this was not because Ramana said it and then I was listening to it in my teachers’ words and then I just repeated. It was because I allowed myself to actually feel the question in my heart, letting the sensation of vertigo take over. I knew that the answer was not coming from a beautiful angel with a golden envelope. It was not either an answer coming from my head either since that “place” seemed like an ongoing party of loudness and unstoppable thoughts… Surrender slowly, I said to myself. Intuitively, I began to send all the energy from head to heart, and my breath fluidly followed the course of this electric feeling.
When someone asks me about the retreat, I say: It was challenging but beautiful at the same time. You are surrounded by people, but you can’t talk to them or even look at them. You are completely on your own, going inside your cave. You are not supposed to read or listen to music (both tough ones since I enjoy being a loner), and of course, no smartphones or other technology allowed.
Days passed with this rhythm of not knowing what the meditation could bring. But, more and more, I was sensing how my own mind, my thoughts were in charge of everything and I got really surprised… I have a huuuge ego! I discovered with much humility and love, like a child finding a treasure in the backyard. Something shifted, I soon realized. A couple of days after the retreat was over I started to feel different. I spoke to my father on the phone about his health, my family and our current state when he suddenly interrupted me and said: I feel you’re serene, I can tell it in your voice and your energy. I feel you’re in a good place inside.
He was right. I could have a taste of what it feels like to be free from my own mind. And what does that mean? For me, it’s about not reacting. I am used to making up stories about what’s going on and what will happen in the future. All drama. So, I usually react before giving myself some time to let go of the emotion or thought. Life keeps going and things happen at every moment, but I don’t feel the urge to react. Rather, my body is the one allowing me to respond by taking its time. And I’m grateful for that.
On the afternoon of day six, in a continuous three-hour meditation, I felt the same void as in my roller coaster experience. I thought my heart would stop, and suddenly tears started to flow in a blissful moment that could have lasted a minute or an entire hour. Like that day in the amusement park, I just couldn’t scream. My mind was tired of fighting the silence (finally!). I felt my heart moving in some way, as if it were opening up in the middle of that darkness, where no images or words were possible.
I know now that there is a long road still ahead and there is much to do (or not). I’ll keep reading Krishnamurti, now with a little bit more awareness. Mostly, though, I will keep going with my meditation practice. Below, I share a fragment of Krishnamurti’s teachings. I hope they inspire you enough to surrender to the sensation of vertigo with all your being.
When you turn your head from horizon to horizon your eyes see a vast space in which all the things of the earth and of the sky appear. But this space is always limited where the earth meets the sky. The space in the mind is so small. In this little space all our activities seem to take place: the daily living and the hidden struggles with contradictory desires and motives. In this little space the mind seeks freedom, and so it is always a prisoner of itself. Meditation is the ending of this little space. (…) The mind can never be silent within itself; it is silent only within the vast space which thought cannot touch. Out of this silence there is action which is not of thought. Meditation is this silence.*
*From J. Krishnamurti, Meditations, 1969.