A Boot Camp Retreat
Winter's news was overwhelming. Newtown and the Boston Bombing gripped the nation. Then congress and the senate weighed in. Even after Tucson, Aurora and then Newtown, lawmakers still held that fishing required a license but simplebackground checks for gun purchases did not. The moral compass of the world felt like it was spiraling out of control. And so too were my own sensibilities. I needed a break from the news, from external contact, and away from my normal routine. But where?
The invitation came. Spend ten days (twelve if you count arrival and departure days) in a Noble Silent Retreat. It would be held in the middle of a swamp in Georgia where attendees would remain in silent meditation twelve hours per day starting at 4 am and ending with lights out at 9 pm. Two vegetarian meals would be served. A Code of Conduct demanded students abstain from: killing, stealing, lying, sexual misconduct and all intoxicants during the retreat. Reading the invitation I wondered if the Code of Conduct should be a licensing requirement for all government officials to hold office. Nonetheless, the retreat sounded perfect.
On arrival day, our group of thirty men and thirty women gathered in a room to get our instructions. Surrender all cell phones, electronics, notebooks and car keys! Sign the Code of Conduct and get room assignments - men to one dorm, women to the other. No talking, no sign language, no mixing with the opposite sex, no walkingin other than the approved area! Meditation was only allowed in your room or the meditation hall!
Days were strictly structured and disciplined. A gong sounded at 4 am signaling the start of the first two hour meditation. Breakfast and showering followed. Then a three hour meditation until lunch. After lunch and a period for rest, meditation began again until tea break in the early evening. After tea there was another group meditation and a discourse on the teachings followed by lights out at 9 pm. This was the daily schedule for the entire retreat.
We entered the meditation hall for the first time on arrival day where we were given our seat assignments and our first meditation instruction. Our names were placed on small cushions lined up in rows. That spot would be our 'home' for meditation during the remainder of the retreat. And it did become a 'home' in a way because if someone overslept or was missing in action everyone knew immediately and the proctor would respond.
Every serious meditation instruction teaches how to watch the breath. But this "Boot Camp" meditation training took it to a much deeper level. When you focus on watching the breath touch the edges of the nostrils for twelve hours, a shift in yourreality occurs. The breath becomes a living entity. It can be hot or cold, moist or dry, rapid or slow. It can go in one nostril or both. And during each sit, the experience is different because each breath is different.
It was like meeting a new friend.
The daily training builds on the previous day's instruction. For 3 days all we did was focus on the breath, so when Day 3 was over, your mind, which had been occupied with watching the breath, convinces you, "Peace of cake! I've got it now!" Nay Nay! For when the training changes on Day 4 to body sensations you feel you're back to ground zero. The mind, held captive for three days with breathing instruction, now had to do something different and it balked. Old head games and wild thoughts began. I need to get out of here; I can't do this for six more days; This is a cult; This is a crock; Who do I have to see to get my car keys? The thoughts were relentless and I was ready to succumb to them.
Then I remembered I'd come with someone and realized she might be having a wondrous experience so it was wrong to interrupt that for her. I fought the urge to bolt and reluctantly stayed the course. Day 5 was a horror of experiences but on Day 6 without any conscious effort on my part, something shifted inside. I'd wanted to get far away from news and my normal routine. That was happening. But more importantly I began to feel different, more connected and more peaceful about everything. A large scorpion with stingers erect sitting near my feet did not botherme or I it. I simply watched it, following my breath, aware of the sensations of fear give way to acceptance coursing through my body. Then the scorpion moved on. I also wanted to experience the magic that they promised would occur on Day 10.
I'm glad I stayed because the promise was kept. Every person experiences Day 10 differently and I don't want to spoil it for anyone reading this. But I can say it was worth the wait. I'd spent 12 days with 30 women I didn't know, yet I realized I'd kindled a relationship with them as important as the relationships with people I'd known my whole life. I'd been through the "mind-wars" with them and 29 of us survived. (One did not make it to the end; she left on Day 9.) Without talking or making eye-contact we got to know each other solely through our shared experiences and the energy we created through our unconscious mannerisms and behavior. And on Day 10 we laughed, talked, and shared what we'd experienced with each other during the silent time.
I'd learned detachment through the training of the senses in this retreat. But that training took me to a place of wisdom and inner knowing that detachment did not mean disengagement. I experienced the intrinsic meaning of the coming into and out of existence in all our life cycles, whether it was thoughts, feelings, sensations, seasons, or actual events. I developed a kinship and connection with the visible and invisible worlds that had become instinctual. I returned to the world I'd left behind with a much better understanding and knowing that whatever was in front of me, "it too shall pass." And I realized what the training taught me about myself - that I could endure and withstand anything! So much so, I'll be going back again next year.
Jo Mooy - August 2013