Please pass the chisel

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Have you ever felt like you were contained in a pressure cooker and if someone didn’t release the valve soon, you would explode into bits? That’s what sent me on my first meditation retreat. 

I had been meditating consistently for about 5 years and had been considering going on retreat for a while, but struggled to find one that suited me; shared rooms – no, vegetarian cuisine – no. 

Until one night. 

I was lying in bed, sobbing over everything including my inability to get away. Within the eye of this self pity storm was the sudden realization that the only thing impeding my path was me. A week later my retreat was booked.  

Thirteen of us gathered in the meditation center. The octogonal space was enclosed with glass affording us an extensive view of the lush environment and the ambient notes of birds and a nearby waterfall. 

Our guide opened the week explaining that this experience would not be about transcendence but embodiment. Embodiment? I needed a dictionary. 

As introductions were made, most participants disclosed something about themselves that left me wondering if I signed up for group therapy. Despite my concern, listening to them stirred something inside of me, but discussing my own reasons for being there was like reading a grocery list.  

I had expected to be in meditation for the majority of the retreat, but this one was different. This retreat was designed so that the periods of meditation, never exceeding 40 minutes in one sit, would soften us and the exercises that followed would enable us to see our self imposed blinders and ideally allow them to fall away. 

I labored through the exercises. Trying to maintain eye contact was like being tear gassed. Ninety seconds later I released a verbal deluge of relief that it was over. Was I the only one squirming?   

We talked about where you feel emotions in your body – you feel emotions in your body? 

As the week progressed so did we. I was calmer, but still concerned that I wasn’t allowing myself to let go. I confided in my journal: I’m disappointed in my fear. What’s the use of exploring if you refuse to see, feel or touch the treasures? 

One morning I sat down to breakfast overlooking the stream, the others were gathered at a table behind me. One of the girls motioned for me to join them, but I refused, so she silently placed her tray beside mine. As I sat there trying to eat I was shaken by the abrupt awareness that by choosing this spot, I had literally turned my back on my new friends. Is this who I am? Do I unconsciously reject connection? I crumbled like a sand castle in a storm. 

When I met with the instructor privately he elaborated on what I was just starting to understand: Your wall and the part of you that wants to be free from it are in conflict, but the wall has served an important purpose so should be shown some gratitude. So often we push away what we don’t want, but it is only by opening to it that we start to heal.  

The “wall” was no surprise, and sure, its strength provided support during traumatic events, but I started to realize that it didn’t only keep others out, but kept me in. Holy crap! I’m emotionally inaccessible! 

Aware that time on retreat was running out, I decided that the only way I would evolve was through discomfort. It was time to employ the chisel. 

I volunteered for an exercise that (scared the hell out of me) positioned me as the object of meditation for the rest of the group. 

I sat in the middle of the room with our teacher opposite me and the rest of the group seated in a semi-circle behind him. After a brief moment of centering, twelve pairs of eyes were looking at me with the intention of seeing through my veneer.  

I squirmed.

I wept.

I twitched.

I surrendered.

My body vibrated – the wall came down – up from the ashes came the most intense love and joy I have ever experienced before and since.

Meditation, fresh, organic food (I survived a week of vegetarianism!) and plenty of restful sleep nurtured my body into vitality. Time and space to withdraw from perpetual distractions so prominent in modern society, enabled me to settle out of a mind in flux and explore the vibrance of physical life (embodiment!). Twelve magical people who patiently encouraged me while I gingerly removed bricks from my wall and learned to return their gaze and accept their love, truly awakened me. 

It was the most me I’ve ever been. 

Not the sick girl.

Not the one with the messed up family.

Me. 

Pivotal Moments is a collection of experiences that contribute to who I am.  Have you considered what makes you, you?

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