In a few hours, I’ll leave the comfortable container of the life I have built and enter into a silent meditation retreat. It’s the formal style of retreat known as sesshin in Zen practice, my first time doing this type of retreat. I’ve done silent retreats, long retreats, and retreats where meditation is the focus – but never this formal style, and never for this length of time.
As with most retreats, and especially silent retreats, I am experiencing profound anxiety about what’s to come.
These retreats are no joke! 8-10 hours of seated meditation a day, formal meal practice, sleeping in an unfamiliar place, navigating the minefield of my dietary needs… it’s a lot! I know I can do it, but I know it will be uncomfortable at several points. There always seems to be a moment for me in meditation retreats where I’m sitting on the cushion and my inner child is screaming at the top of their lungs, ready to run into the forest and never come back.
Honestly, the thing that is gnawing at me most is the lack of work time.
This is a week off from running my business, seeing my patients, being the architect of my life on Earth. The understanding is that while you are in the sesshin retreat, even when there are break times, you’re not going online, you’re not engaging in work, in fact they ask you not even to read or journal. The intention is to keep 100% of your focus on being in your body, in your breath, in your experience.
My work is a massive, massive part of my life. My business partner is my life partner. The practices I use and teach at work are the very same practices I use in my own life. I wake up thinking about Chinese medicine, I go to sleep thinking about Chinese medicine. I ENJOY working on my business, planning, analyzing, understanding, connecting. And right now, of course, I’m also intellectually engaged with my classical Chinese studies, among other things. I have built the life and the work that feeds me, challenges me and keeps me engaged.
To give that up, even for a week, feels painful! And that’s exactly why I have to do it.
Work is not life. Even my home life is not really life. Not all of it. There is a whole part of the human experience that we so often ignore or at least minimize. Our engagement with our deepest selves, the reality of our existence and, yes, the reality of our eventual non-existence. The real “meaning” or truth of what it is we are doing, and why, and what it all means. The realm of the spiritual, the deep philosophical, the beyond, the mystery. Most of us ignore it. I know I try.
So, this type of retreat is the perfect antidote for me.
For my infection with the hustle always-up culture that I was born and raised in. For my disembodiment/dissociation and the traumas that created and sustain it. For my secret concern that all that is important about me is in what I create or produce. It is the antidote to the culture that makes me feel only as valuable as I am economically valuable.
And as a person recently diagnosed with autism, I am looking at this particular retreat differently than in the past. I see that I have been attracted to the monastic environment and monastic life in part because it is quiet, calm, soothing, peaceful. A silent retreat means no forced socializing, no weird looks if I want to wander off on my own or just stare in to space feeling the world around me. It means space without flashing lights and loud noises and offensive smells and people always trying to steal my attention and centeredness.
It is a break from the need to mask myself.
So, while my inner child is kicking and screaming, begging me not to go, I know I must. I know I will. And I know on the flipside I will emerge more integrated, more prepared for what’s to come, and more joyful about the beauty of existence.
Remind me of this when I forget in five minutes.