Alright, alright, alright . . .
I’m pretty sure that by now anytime I go to talk about meditation you guys want to kill me (Jill). I can’t help it, man. It’s made too much of a positive impact on my life to not go around trying to get people to try it out for themselves. It’s helped me take control of my life versus having life control me calling the shots. With that being said, I think meditation is the way. The way to what? Not sure. But it’s definitely the way to something.
Every time I start to think that there’s this cap to the benefits of meditation, I get proved wrong, time and time again. The deeper I dive into my practice, the more I’m starting to realize that I’m just beginning with meditation.
So a little over a month ago (this should of been out sooner but I’m a lazy shit) I embarked on my first 7 day silent meditation retreat over in Maryland. Something I’ve been wanting to do for about two years now. 7 days, no talking (only in your group that meets twice out of the seven days and once in a one on one meeting), meditating from 6:15 am – 9:30 pm, alternating between sitting meditation, walking meditation and mindfulness eating.
Cue the “fuck that” response that most of you probably just blurted out.
Why, would probably the best place to start. Why not? When else will you ever get a chance to observe yourself on that kind of level? Actually let me just stop right there because I know there’s at least 100 different reasons you could give me to dismantle this “why not?” Most definitely this isn’t for everyone. Obviously. To even say that this was a cake walk for me would be a lie. To be honest, I had an extremely difficult time and by the end I started to think that it was doing more harm than good. A lot of it was my own inner landscape that I had to work through. A landscape that I’ve stared right in the face a thousand times over and still watched it bring me to my knees. It’s now about a little over a month after the retreat and I feel great. Will I do another one of these down the road? For sure–– just down, down the road though.
I specifically picked this retreat with someone who I truly admire and look up to. That someone was Tara Brach. I’ve included her in a few of my previous blogs and am going to talk about her some more in the other meditation blog, “Getting Ben Still-er.” A blog I’ve done before on a step by step process on how to meditate but this time I’m hoping to simplify it even more, while getting a little deeper into it for anyone who’s been meditating for a while now. Underneath all the weird dogma that surrounds meditation, there’s and incredibly easy practice to be learned that can absolutely have a profound impact on your life. I always say that meditation is the hardest thing that I’ve ever gotten into purely for the fact that a meditation practice and courage are synonyms. They are like peanut butter & jelly and it takes a tremendous amount of courage to go back and look at every single area of your life and run it through a fine tooth comb. But, the act of going about it is easier than I think people realize.
This blog is going to be about the 3 most important lessons that I was able to take away from the retreat. So for fear of getting to drawn out with talking––if I haven’t already––lets get into this.
- Thoughts are just thoughts – How many times have you heard the statement “you are not your thoughts”? Now out of all those times that you’ve heard that statement, how many times have you actually thought about it? Now out of all the times that you’ve actually thought about it, has it ever really clicked? Were you able to come to a proper understanding of it? Out of all the times that I’ve thought about that, there’s probably only been 2-3 times where I felt that I was truly able to comprehend the truth in the statement . . . only to watch it slip through my fingers in the upcoming days. “I get it” I would tell myself. “Actually you get absolutely fooking nothing (Conor Mcgregor voice), my friend” is the response I would usually get in return.
On the second night of the retreat I was deep in meditation and found myself thinking of how badly I had to take a piss. Actually my exact words were, “this shit sucks, I have to take a piss so fucking bad right now.” And when I actually took a second to check in and think about that for a second, zero part of me had to go to the bathroom. Or how on the third night I found myself in a similar deep meditation thinking, “fuck Marko, it was all his fault.” Again, when I actually checked in with that thought, I realized, I don’t even know a Marko!
So what’s your point, Justin? My point is this; in both of those incidents, I truly believed those thoughts. I felt like I was absolutely certain that I had to take a piss, and I could feel the feeling of anger starting to come up from the depths as I thought about this Marko character who I didn’t even know! What other thoughts are we having like this that aren’t true, but yet without the presence to catch them in action, we often find ourselves unconsciously getting swept away in the current of those thoughts.
Lets break it down like this: If I wasn’t present in that exact moment, I could have easily been swept away by that feeling of anger––and that feeling of anger was nothing more than a emotion attached to a random thought. Now lets go ahead and add some unconscious attachment to that feeling of anger. Boom, continuing to head unconsciously downstream, the possibility of now engaging in a new negative thought––based off of that attachment to the anger––is more than likely going to be the outcome. Keep that up and from that new negative thought you now find yourself unconsciously identifying with a new negative emotion about that thought. So! Are you not seeing how fucking crazy we are?! Are you not seeing how easy it is for the mind to call the shots if we’re not paying close enough attention? We need to wake up. And when I say “wake up,” it’s nothing more than saying, are you moving through life consciously or unconsciously? Were you present on your entire commute to work or do you show up wondering how you even got there? Do you often find yourself upset for saying the wrong thing even though you didn’t mean it? How many times do you misplace your keys, phone, etc? (This ones for me.) These are all unconscious behaviors propelling us through life on auto-pilot. So the question that we all need to ask ourselves is, who’s really running the show here?
Thoughts lead to emotions, emotions lead to thoughts. Rinse and repeat.
Unless . . .
Unless we have the presence to catch these thoughts in action before they take us on a fifteen minute ride down the Colorado river.
2. This belongs – So a consistent on going theme throughout most of my blogs is to never shy away from the unpleasant emotions or feelings that we experience. You could never know true joy without experiencing some form of devastation in your life. I know it gets redundant, but it’s the truth.
Well Tara did a beautiful job illustrating this point teaching us how to incorporate “this belongs” into our practice. It’s something I’ve been using since the retreat anytime I find myself getting caught up in these unpleasant emotions. Should it be in meditation or just throughout daily life, the next time you find yourself getting lost in emotions, repeat the words, “this belongs,” over, and over, and over again. To deny negative emotions are to deny a piece of yourself and in return are only going to reenforce them making them stronger. “Whatever you resist, persist.” These emotions, as tough as they may be to deal with, are part of us, part of who we are.
You can either repeat “this belongs” as a mantra, or as you quiet down bringing your awareness into the body, see if you can notice a spot where these uncomfortable feelings are stemming from. Maybe it’s tightness in the throat or a undeniable clenching of the gut. For me it’s a tightness in my chest right under my sternum. When I get nervous, excited, anxious, scared, anything else you can think of, it all stems back to that one spot. It’s a blockage, and it’s trauma. Something that I’m still trying to work on. Little by little you investigate these areas with courage. Once you’ve located the area––if you haven’t and just want to use “this belongs” as a mantra, that’s completely fine––hold your hand on the spot. With your hand on the spot, “this belongs” mantras flying out in rapid fire, start to send some love to the area.
Stay with me here if I just lost you! I know I’m going into hippy territory but I’m going to bring it back to reality in this last takeaway.
3. Loving kindness (Metta) – If you threw up in your mouth a little bit, I feel you.
Up until the retreat, I had always heard of the benefits of incorporating a loving kindness practice into your meditation. Actually listening to Dan Harris’ 10% Happier Podcast, one of his guest, Matthieu Ricard, was dubbed “the worlds happiest man.” Although he even thought it was a funny title, he goes on to talk about how the biggest change in the brain doesn’t come through “regular” meditation, but comes from loving kindness meditation. And this isn’t to say that there isn’t a change in the brain through meditation––because there is, just more of a change in the brain comes through the loving kindness practice.
So back to this whole throwing up in the mouth business. I told you, I get it. Even though I was meditating long before the retreat, there was a 2% chance you were ever going to get me to take a loving kindness practice seriously. I would do it hear and there throughout my meditation practice but never really expected much from it. So to really put this loving kindness business in perspective, I’m going to talk about a story from the retreat.
Later in afternoon of day two in the retreat and everything is fine. I hadn’t hit the rougher waters yet and the sailing was smooth. That was until she arrived. Up until that point I was the first person in my row and had my own space. Didn’t have to worry about anyone cramping my style, ya know? Welp, that was ruined once she arrived. That “she” is Carol, but we’ll get to that later. Here she was incredibly close to me invading on my personal space. Something I constantly have to work on is my incredibly short fuse of irritability. As time went on, I could feel myself getting increasingly irritable throughout the following meditations as I would listen to hear chew her cough drops, clear her throat, blow her nose, fidget in her seat––can you tell I was just a little agitated?
Around this time in the retreat they started talking to us about how to start incorporating loving kindness into our practice. Unconditional love for ourselves and everyone around us to put in layman’s terms. Wishing one well. Giving us different mantras to repeat over and over like, “may this person be free from suffering,” or, “may this person always choose love over fear.” Ya know, cringe worthy mantras along those lines. So hear I was at my limit with Carol and decided to try this out and throw some loving kindness her way. “May you be free from internal and external pain.” “May you find true joy throughout your life.” Just some of the mantras I would repeat over and over again as I envisioned Carol sitting right in front of me as I would personally say these mantras to her face.
Every meditation session I kept this up like clock work. And that’s when it happened. Having a real tough time on day four, I couldn’t believe I had to sit down for another fucking forty five minutes. Dread would be a accurate description to sum up how I was feeling. Sitting in my chair, session about to begin, Carol nowhere in sight . . . and I realized that I was upset that she wasn’t there. Over the course of the meditation sessions practicing the loving kindness towards her, I had grown extremely fond of her. Fond of someone I didn’t even know! She had turned into my anchor throughout the meditations solely from this loving kindness practice. I couldn’t even believe how upset I was that she wasn’t there. And then, better late than never, Carol walks in. And all I could do was laugh at the feeling of joy that I felt as she walked in.
I wanted to close out with this story because this is where I’m currently at in my practice. The missing link to my practice that I never knew I was missing.
Have you ever paid attention to your self talk? I genuinely think my self talk and outlook on life is heading down the direction of positivity––something that use to be non-existent––but pretty sure I can chalk this one up to neuroplasticity doing its thing over the past couple of years. Even now I can still be hard on myself and when I get deep into meditation, and get completely honest, I notice that I do love myself, a lot, but I don’t know if that self love is 100%, or “unconditional self love.” And I don’t think that comes over night, or in a month, or in a year. But I do think it’s absolutely possible, again through neuroplasticity and this practice of loving kindness.
“Loving-kindness, or metta, as it in called in the Pali language, is unconditional, inclusive love, a love with wisdom. It has no conditions; it does not depend on whether one “deserves” it or not; it is not restricted to friends and family; it extends out from personal categories to include all living beings. There are no expectations of anything in return. This is the ideal, pure love, which everyone has in potential. We begin with loving ourselves, for unless we have a measure of this unconditional love and acceptance for ourselves, it is difficult to extend it to others. Then we include others who are special to us, and, ultimately, all living things. Gradually, both the visualization and the meditation phrases blend into the actual experience, the feeling of loving kindness.” – http://www.contemplativemind.org/practices/tree/loving-kindness