Mindfulness Weekend Retreat, August 2015
However, I volunteered to be the “Scribe Walla”. My duties, light in the moment, now weigh heavy. Twenty four hours after returning to the roar and rush of Jo’burg, I have a commitment to assess my experience of mindfulness as practiced with Nan Lutz over two and half days in the silence and peace of the Tara Ropa center.
What did I learn? What have I retained?
For me it was a weekend of learning to think about my thinking and in most cases to recognize that what I am thinking is not necessarily true and often not even important.
In the beginning, I was thinking that I should have spent the weekend with friends instead of with these 12 strangers.
In the beginning, I was thinking I must be careful to not offend. I am not a practicing Buddhist. I don’t know when it is appropriate to take off my shoes, what a stupa is for, when my wanting is selfish and egotistical and when it is just a simple request.
As promised, the weekend was not strictly Buddhist and the rules that worried me became clear. The sign on the door requesting silence in the mother house was removed and introductions proceeded without awkwardness. Roles and responsibilities including ringing the gong, returning the soup pots to the kitchen, keeping the fire going, and writing up this impression of the weekend were offered and accepted.
Twelve people, all strangers to me, but like-minded. All willing to sit wrapped in blankets against the winter chill (no suffering required). All willing to learn.
The first morning we begin to report on our experience with the homework assignment from the night before. The assignment: observe our daily ritual of tooth-brushing.
OMG! That is right! I forgot!
This is what happened in the next instant.
My stomach retracts, my cheeks flush; I feel fear. My immediate future flashes before me: I am going to be humiliated, shamed, and judged as wanting.
I have the thought that, in my failure to remember the assignment, I will be revealed as the worst person in the room. I will be seen as the only person who is not taking this seriously? I will be the first to be voted off this Mindfulness Island.
My mind races. I am seeking a way to avoid the shaming consequence of my failure. A way to avoid “getting in trouble”. I can look away; I can fade into the cushions; I could excuse myself from the room with some excuse. I can remain silent; hide my shame, I can choose to carry my failure with me in secret.
All this primitive survival fear splashes though my body in a second. With a moment’s reflection, I realize I am an adult and we are talking about brushing my teeth with conscious attention. My feelings, my thoughts are not rational.
So I confess.
“Tell me what it felt like in your body”, says Nan. And I describe my physical feeling of wanting to run and hide.
“That’s it! That is feeling in your body what is happening in the moment. That’s mindfulness.” She says.
And now I am feeling good. I’ve been praised. Suddenly I am the mayor of Mindfulness Island, the one who knows how to do this thing called mindfulness. The temptation to talk too much rises up with a beckoning finger. I want to be praised some more. I like it.
Here there is potential for me to become that person. The one so sure of herself that she dominates the room and become a bore.
Between these two events, there are so many emotions storming in my body that I blush. My mind is confused. I need a moment.
And again, with a moment’s reflection, I recognize how these feelings, these thoughts, have no actual meaning. I am no better or worse than anyone in the room. These feelings, these thoughts, just are. They have no meaning until, believing them to be true, I act.
As the weekend progresses, this time away with strangers does not get easier. I am late for breakfast. I call someone by the wrong name. I over think my behavior and I forget, over and over again, to pay attention. But sometimes I remember. And, with time, I come to enjoy the company of these strangers. And, when I do remember, I remember that it is all just thoughts. I don’t have to believe my thoughts. I can choose a different thought.