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My Self-Discovery Journey Through Meditation
For years, I will just glance through the monochrome, old-school poster of Spiritual Cultivation Retreat (SCR) in my mailbox before hitting delete. The idea of attending a retreat did not appeal to me back then. I just could not comprehend what people do in a retreat. They are just sitting and walking all day long. What is so fun about watching the breath, while enduring physical pain of sitting upright (cross-legged) on a meditation cushion?
But, somehow, I like the idea of noble silence and self-solitude in a retreat environment. I have the excuse to always close my eyes and totally ignore my surroundings. I do not have to socialize or talk with anyone.
So, one day, I checked in for a two weeks SCR, without any great spiritual expectations. I only hoped that I will live through that long retreat.
Reading As An Escape And Relief
I love to read but had been avoiding meditation-themed books as I could not understand them well. However, as SCR's participants are encouraged to do pre-retreat learning, I crammed hard. I read all the recommended books before the retreat as if I was going to take a tough exam.
It was indeed tough watching my mind, as it is, during the first few days. There were too many random thoughts. My head felt heavy and tense as I was trying too hard to be aware in all body's position. I am to be aware of whatever is happening; not only the breathing but also physical sensation and feelings.
Day after day, I lived through the retreat's typical schedule:
- wake up
- morning group sitting
- small group discussion (interview) on alternate days
- tea time
- evening group sitting
Sometimes, I walked around the forest and hilly retreat's compound to breathe in fresh air. It was peaceful but somewhat boring. On rainy days, I would hide in the dorm to read, anxious to be mentally prepared for the interview session. To avoid watching some of my emotional pain, I plunged into reading - again and again. I was hoping that the books will give me some answers.
Finally, I lived through the two weeks SCR. Although I did untie two heart-knots there, I went home doubting if I could really meditate. I had solved those personal issues through deep contemplation. Are those skills part of spiritual cultivation?
With lingering doubts, I shelved the practice. Only upon acceptance into the youth version of SCR (YSCR), I was motivated to do my 'overdue homework'. I started to meditate while living my daily life.
To avoid watching some of my emotional pain,
I plunged into reading - again and again.
I was hoping that the books will give me some answers.
Contemplating Life and Death
The difference between SCR and YSCR are the age of the participants:
- SCR all ages
- YSCR 16 - 40 years old
I attended YSCR with a strong determination to untie more heart knots, if possible. So, I banned myself from reading. I gotta see for myself where this practice can lead me too.
One morning, I paced up and down a gentle slope with a centipede. The creature moved slowly with perseverance. I chuckled at my thoughts, "Although I have fewer legs, as a bigger creature, I could walk faster than a centipede."
Later that day, I cried at the sight of a crushed centipede on a different slope. It might not be the same centipede but somehow I felt extremely discouraged. A thought flashed, "I am going to die anyway. So, why practice?"
When I reported that incident in the interview, I was told, "You 'die' every night."
I somewhat agreed but still see life as a meaningless cyclic existence - born, grow up, sick, study, work and die, again and again in samsara. What is the use of trying to do something now that will change or gone tomorrow?
Today, after two years, I learned how to see life as a blessing. As long as I am still alive, I can meditate. My life is full of flaws and setbacks but whose isn't? Also, does life needs a meaning?
Anger As My Best Friend
It took one question, "Why are you so angry?" to literally threw me off balance in my next SCR. I was supposed to be peaceful in a retreat but somehow had been suppressing the burning anger in me. Anger was my best friend since childhood. It was my bodyguard, protecting me from getting hurt. I also exerted it to control other people, especially colleagues. My words were harsh in verbal or written form.
As I grow older, I resorted to keeping my mouth shut. I was trying to prevent anger from erupting externally. So, it ended up exploding internally. I am burning myself mercilessly! From that retreat onward, I learn to watch the manifestation of anger in my mind and body. I will question why am I angry over particular events and people. What do I want? Is the wanting reasonable and logic? I let my mind complains like a maniac and calms down on its own.
Do you have an issue with anger?
Afraid Of Losing Control
In retreat, we line-dry our laundry with hangers. Some yogis use pegs to secure the hangers on the line. Some do not. Every time the wind blows, something interesting will happen. The pegged clothes will kinda sway, struggle not to move. Those without peg just swiftly change position - turning left or right, nonchalantly, following the direction of the wind.
One breezy afternoon, some thoughts came to my mind:
- Which group of clothes will dry faster - with or without peg?
- Which group of clothes is happier - with or without peg?
- Are clothes with peg stubborn, rigid and inflexible?
- Are clothes without peg have no guts, no stance and indecisive?
- Which group am I in?
- Do I sometimes struggle in life?
- What is pegging my life?
Somehow, I found the real culprit - pegged views! I learn that they had been helming and controlling my life. Strangely, I like that sense of control. I am unwilling and afraid to lose it. How else should I interact with the ever-changing winds of life? Do I have to submit to it entirely?
Or, am I willing to learn to embrace the ever-changing winds of life? Will I be happier if I unpeg some views from my life?
Which group of clothes are you in?
There are many poker faces around us. I used to idolize them. They are unpredictable and play their cards close to their's chest. To me, they appear cold yet cool as a cucumber.
Though years of practice, I manage to have a stone face, most of the time. But, I pay a hefty price for that. Until one SCR, it was not apparent to me how I got the poker face. I learn that I had built an "ice cube" around me to prevent outflow of my real emotions. Direct contact with more than three persons in a go scares me, as they might "melt" my "ice cube".
Other than anger, I could not locate many of my other emotions. I could sit through a heartwarming and funny animation in cinema, feeling absolutely nothing. I did not felt touched or tickle enough to laugh at jokes. I lost the skill of tapping into my emotions. I could talk and write without emotions. I had been doing what being mentioned by Nancy Duarte in Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences, ' ... hiding behind a wall of jargon and meaningless impressive sounding words that have no emotion.'
As a writer, this is an alarming discovery. Where were my emotions? I knew that I need to regain my emotions. It is only humane to feel.
Today, I am thankful to be able to write again, with emotions.
I had started SCR without thinking that I will stick with it for a long duration. Day after day, I learn, relearn and unlearn things about myself through meditation. The process is no bed of roses. However, it is a fascinating, well-worth journey into self-discovery.
© 2017 Tung Wai Chee