Nearly a decade ago I attended a two-week long Shambhala (a form of Tibetan Buddhism) retreat called Warrior Assembly. It was the cumulation of 10, weekend long classes held over the course of two years. Warrior Assembly was akin to a gathering of graduates of the same program held in different cities all over the world. Attending this program was a big deal, but it carried many challenges along with it.
I grew up in a nice home. My parents were fairly private people. We enjoyed the luxury of going on an occasional family vacation, but we never did things like go hiking or camping. My Mother was a smart Jewish girl from “da Bronx,” what did she know of camping? My Dad was a good Catholic boy from Brooklyn, but even though he'd been a Boy Scout, I don't think dry gin martinis go well with pup tents.
I had, I guess, a "normal," conservative, middle class life. The outdoors was for sketching flowers I found while sitting under the shade of a tree. Religion was not discussed. We were left to our own devices in that regard.
Warrior Assembly meant the teasing away of my cocoon, my emotional one, my little whiny ego. This was where I started that work and boy did I NOT want to do it. I liked my safe places, my known daily routine. I love to watch TV and "space out." I like my privacy.
I didn't want to sit in a room with over 100 strangers, most of whom seemed to be happy to be on retreat without the comforts I was so used to. There was no air conditioning and it was June. It was too humid. There were too many people in a small space. I had to sit too close to them, sit near enough to be annoyed by hearing their breathing. I did not want to eat Oryoki style, where food is served while you sit on the floor. You have to eat in a certain way, in a certain order. Eating becomes meditation. You chant. You do not talk while you're eating other than chanting. Food is not comfort, it is for providing for your body. I couldn't "stress eat" my dinner or load up on carbs. Whatever they gave me was what I ate. Case closed.
I decided to stay at a hotel instead of a small spartan room with a shared bath or stay in a room with a bunch of strangers getting undressed in front of each other. The fat girl in gym class was not getting changed in front of anyone. I told myself that no matter how bad it got, I could always run back to the hotel and hide if it got to be too much.
I tried to tell myself not to be bothered by all this "hippie, veggie-eating stuff" (as my dad would say). I was mostly going to be sitting on a gomden for 8 hours meditating. It's not like I had a task. I just had to sit, follow my breath, try to experience my desire to push back but not do anything about it. Experience what is this moment and let everything else go.
There were days of complete silence. No talking allowed. It reminded us how unimportant most of things we say are every day, all the time, talking, talking, talking to fill up our fear of just being quiet with each other, to face that uncomfortable feeling, to simply abide.
Every day I hated it and I pushed back. We all took on tasks to help out the facility. I cut so many carrots my hands were stained orange, but there was joy in the work in the kitchen and a softness between the people there.
We studied and learned new things. We walked the expansive lawns and admired the organic gardens, yet, I still needed to run back to my hotel each night so I could feel normal again.
Near the end of the progam, though the temperatures were still muggy and my seat mates were still close to me as ever, something shifted. The pushing back feeling was fading away, replaced by acceptance of how things are and surprisingly, a cheerful feeling unfolded. Letting go freed me from a lot of pain and anxiety. Once I relaxed into the situation I was no longer angry and really, what was there to be angry about? In this moment I was just fine. Yes, I would like to be less sticky feeling but feeling sticky was okay, too. It wouldn't last forever. I knew it would change and I'd feel differently again and again and again.
When the time came to leave the program I was reluctant to go home. I got in my car and within the first hour my car broke down in the middle of nowhere Vermont. I didn't get scared or upset. Perhaps my sense of good cheer was the key to everything that followed? I found a small gas station, they called some friend to come to the station. They didn't give up on me or push me off saying they had no resources. They found me some help that made it so I could get home safely. I didn't flip out and I got home okay.
I was thinking about Warrior Assembly today and how I feel like I'm pushing back a lot right now. The power has been out for two days. Tomorrow CL&P will tell us when they estimate we will have power back on. I overheard the First Selectman say 7-10 days.
Even the simplest task is annoying and challenging. I'm irritated beyond irritation yet I'm compelled to look back and think about what I learned so long ago.
Sure there's no water, heat or light. No tv or internet. Tonight it will go down into the 30's. There's very little in the bank and the contents of the fridge are going to waste soon-again-just like last year.
Eating out is expensive, but I look around and we're all still here. Some of us may need a shower or wish we had a hot cup of tea, but in this moment everything's all right.
I just need to let go.