How does a retreat begin?
The first teaching I remember receiving about doing meditation retreats provided this helpful guide: However long a retreat is, a meditator spends about 1/3 of it “getting in,” 1/3 being in, and 1/3 returning to ordinary life.
Here are my difficulties with getting into Retreat mode:
1) My mind won’t settle. I feel restless, antsy, unable to settle, as if there are other things I’m supposed to/would rather be doing. Suddenly, every undone thing looms large, especially if I have the unfortunate coincidence of being at home. Certainly I should first clean everything, re-arrange everything, organize everything, catch up on filing and correspondence, pay bills early, balance my checkbook, contact this or that friend or family member, etc.? Of course, these tasks do not present themselves as “urgent” until after I begin my Retreat!
2) My body won’t settle. My body’s condition becomes much more intrusive: every itch, every ache, every pain, every need. “Oh, I’m so thirsty. Oh, I’m so hungry. I really need a nap. Oh, I really need to stretch, to move, to walk, to change position.” My hair is too long; it’s too short. I have to file my nails. What’s going on with that mole? I have to pee again. “Is it lunchtime, yet? I should probably have a lot of smaller meals and not wait for lunchtime.” I yawn incessantly. I should take my shower now. I writhe. Every part that can make a pitch for my attention does. My back hurts, my legs hurt, my neck hurts, my shoulders hurt. I’m so tired. On and on and on.
3) My speech won’t settle. I talk to myself. Most of #2 and #1 are said ALOUD. I give myself instructions, encouragement, admonishment, kindness, ruthlessness, strictness, permission: everything is said, more than once, WHILE I am chanting mantra in my mind, which makes the visualization and actual practice mostly crap on a stick. Did I mention that I criticize myself? I talk to my teacher (who isn’t here, of course, and can’t hear me; at least, I hope he can’t hear me. He would be mighty bothered if he could). I talk to the objects of my devotion, subjects of my visualization, previous masters and teachers. They mostly do not answer me. I talk in my sleep.
4) I make and do not stick to a schedule. If I’m not at a retreat center whose meal times require me to be somewhere 3 times a day and around which I revolve everything else, it takes a while to convince my “inner whiny girl” to stick to a schedule. Even harder, I’m discovering, is sticking to a schedule that changes many times per week and includes “ordinary life.” This is a new challenge, and even though I’m on Day 3, I’m not feeling good about how I’m doing with it, yet. Did I mention self-criticism?
5) I am a “next-thing” junkie. Whatever I’m doing, I obsess about what is next and seem to want to be “there” (until I get there). I’m also obsessed with time measurements. I waste concentration “doing the math”: if it takes me X # of minutes or hours to accomplish Y how many hours or days is it until this section is completed? How long until my next break? How long until break is over? How much sleep am I getting? How long have I been doing this part? How much longer must I continue to do this part? When do I get to do the next thing? What’s for my next snack/meal? What about after that? After that? After that?
6) I have too much to do. Since I am doing a home retreat, there is no one “serving” it, or me. I have to do all life’s regular chores and do retreat, also. Since I’ve had it “both ways,” I can say I infinitely prefer being at a retreat center (and so grateful for the times I have been) and not having my home, chores, and responsibilities facing me all day, every day. But, it’s not my karma right now to have that privilege. So, here I am. Stuck with questions and decisions (more to obsess about). “When do I shop? When do I clean? When should I do other chores? When to cook? What do I prepare? What about snacks? When do I clean up the kitchen/do dishes?”
This retreat is planned to last at least 4 1/2 months (until Losar, Tibetan New Year, 3/2/14), or until I complete the assignments and feel “cooked,” whichever comes second.
Doing the math (see #5, above): I started Oct. 18. If I go until March 2, that is 13 + 30 + 31 + 31 + 28 + 2 days = 135 days. I am taking “off” a few days around American New Year’s for family visits, so call it 129 days. 1/3 of 129 = 43. My 43rd day is Nov. 30.
I remember clearly from previous retreats (lasting from 1/2-day to 11 weeks, for me) how getting into retreat is always gradual and difficult, until it isn’t. Just like life.
I can now officially relax, stop kvetching, and just be with what is (KIND OF THE POINT!!!) until November 30 or thereabouts, since that is how long it may take me to “get into” this retreat fully.
By then, I’ll be deeply “in” it and won’t be obsessing, anyway….at least, until about mid-January. Sigh.