Editor’s note: This is part 1 of a 2 part series by friend and guest blogger, Charlie Price, an accomplished storyteller, meditator, and Lakers fan. Enjoy this 2 part series where he shares his insights about the benefits of immersing yourself in a silent meditation retreat!
I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.
The year was 2006. I was working in a job I hated in the casino industry where I happen to fall for a girl who decided to move to another country. Overall, my life was in great turmoil. Needless to say I needed some perspective in my life, and a ten day silent mediation retreat was the route I took.
When I tell people I went on a ten day silent mediation retreat, the first thing that pops out of their mouth is “That must be hard; I couldn’t be silent for ten days.” The silence is not the hard part. The retreat was a challenge and a constant battle for me, so what could have made it so hard?
Have you ever been alone with your thoughts for ten days? No music, no TV, no reading, writing, drinking, sex, talking? No distraction at all? In our society we are constantly bombarded with distractions. Our focus and time are extremely valuable, and someone is always interested in it; sometimes obvious, sometimes subtle.
When we hit the threshold of what we are able to deal with we usually turn to a distraction, and a lot of it is agreed upon and encouraged by our society. Eliminating all distractions and being left with your thoughts can be pretty intense and wild. I’d love to tell you I sat blissfully still for hours at a time with a calm serene mind and a blank empty canvas, only focusing on my own breath, and the moment at hand. I had never meditated before, and to jump right into the fire, it was not what I expected.
Being with the Feeling:
I focused on how difficult it would be not talking for ten days (which also included being a vegetarian and no sex as well), my mind showed me otherwise.
We have feelings that come up in our life from experiences we have, which we give meaning to, and some of these feelings are amazing and blissful, others can feel extremely painful and irritating. So like a couple other billion people, I had been seeking out the blissful feelings and avoiding the painful ones.
Now I’m at this retreat, where I can only talk to my teacher and the only sounds I hear, besides the teacher, are the monstrous belches from the Cantonese women on the other side of the meditation hall. The men and the women had separate camps, we only came together to meditate, and the course was in English and Cantonese.
During the meditation, sensations started to rise inside me in the form of sencuras, which are as sleeping volcanoes. They bubble up inside of you and you will feel them throughout your body; a pain in your leg for instance, or an itchy arm.
All there is to do is observe and be with that feeling. To be with feelings you’ve been avoiding all your life can be a major challenge. There were plenty of days I hated the experience; mind you I hated it because I resisted and resisted and resisted again. I didn’t get it; what was the point of sitting there to feel pain? Was this the way I wanted to live my life?
The only reason I stayed was because I had made a promise to a friend. I even thought about how I would leave in the middle of the night. I had plenty of time to think in general. It took me eight days to stop resisting. To simply observe and let whatever came up be ok.
I clearly remember the moment it clicked: I was in the middle of a meditation, and I had been sitting still for what seemed like eternity. My legs were in immense pain and I was praying for the meditation to be over. I kept breathing through it, when my entire body went calm and I felt bliss. That could have been the endorphins in my legs kicking in, or it could have been because I had stopped resisting.
What I have come to realize since that time was the way to get rid of the painful feelings is to be with them; what we resist persists.
If I have a horrible painful experience and my goal is to avoid it at all costs, such as not wanting to get hurt by the girl I loved, I can focus on not feeling that feeling. Since I am focusing my energy around it the feeling will show up in my life. If you be with the feeling, the pain, the hurt, the intensity, it loses its power. What I was doing by resisting was blocking the feeling and not letting it pass through me, thus not completing the cycle of the feeling.
Being with certain feelings can be a fate worse than death. Or at least that’s what we are lead to believe. The pain of dealing with losing the girl I loved or dealing with my own demons is a challenging experience. It can hurt intensely for a while and then the pain lessens.
So if we have a way to ease our pain, why do we avoid it so adamantly? It all revolves around feeling like we are going to die and the stories we create about the experience.
Check back tomorrow for part 2 of this series on the silent meditation retreat!