All of the world could fall under the heading ‘Craving and aversion’. We are truly designed to resist what is unpleasant, aversion, and chase after what is pleasant, craving.
Our brains are designed to keep us stimulated and thinking about what we crave and strategising about what we do not want, what’s difficult.
Closing my eyes in a tent on a farm in Hawaii during a silent meditation retreat ushered in thoughts, moving images and sensations. I had a long list of food that I was craving that would spring to mind – I wasn’t even hungry! Mmm, bacon.
The gong rang early at 4:20am to remind us of meditation from 4:30 to 6:30am. Then breakfast. Then shower and laundry. Then more meditation. Then lunch. Then free time (but not to write, read or take photographs!). Then more meditation. Then tea. Then evening meditation, a discourse, and a bit more meditation.
We sat for an hour. This is a long time when you are learning to meditate. Even the physical aspect of sitting cross-legged for this long was painful. My hamstrings were hot and tingling, my back creaking and cracking, my shoulders heavy and my right knee sore. So many things to be with!
Often the urge was overwhelming to move, scratch, rub my face, move a hair, open my eyes, check my watch. Very slowly I grew better able to sit still. First I needed to shift my legs every 5 minutes. From crossed to feet on the floor, back to crossed. Then every 10. 15. 20. By Day Ten I could sit still for 35-45 minutes.
My hamstrings gave. They went from concrete – tough, unyielding – to flesh. They no longer hurt. They were pliable. The rest of my aches and pains faded – not completely, but significantly. Or was it simply that my ability to be with these aches and pains had grown?
The true test of meditation came after I left the retreat. After saying goodbye verbally to my copilots on this voyage of discovery, I drove from Hilo to Kona to stay at my somewhat affordable studio condo with a partial ocean view. The view was a sliver between two buildings and across a rather busy road. The condo was dark, dated and dirty. I could see long, black hairs on the floor. There was a VCR and a boxy old TV. I marched over to front desk to complain about the lack of ocean view. And I marched back a second time when I saw clearly that the floor needed cleaning. She asked for 30 minutes to sort it out.
I went for a frantic walk down Ali’i Drive – Kona’s main drag. I almost missed the splendid sunset and magical pink sky over the surfers riding the storm swells. I was all over the internet looking for other rooms. Everywhere else was booked up – this was high season, after all. I had spent half the day driving and my mindset was something like “you must enjoy this fresh air, this walk and the rest of the evening must be amazing .” No pressure.
The lady at front desk had managed to put me into a different condo while they cleaned mine. The next day I could move back.
Did I mention it was Valentine’s Day? I had bought a pizza, beer, and pint of ice cream to treat myself – this was not a day where I was celebrating romance, being single, so it was more about numbing. (and yes, I have a disempowering relationship with V-day, okay?)
“What else have I been numbing?” I wondered. I nearly laughed out loud when I recalled my debacle with the dirty room which had almost ruined my evening.
Wow – I couldn’t even be with that! Not for all the meditation in the world.
I had been compelled to run away from the dirty room, search Ali’i Drive and the internet for last-minute available rooms elsewhere. Hilarious that I had just conquered 10 days of silent meditation, camping in tents, to stick up my nose over a slightly shabby condo!
The next day I cannot possibly describe how glowing and beautiful, clean, bright and airy that same condo looked. Yes, it still had a TV and VCR but I also found a delightful drawer full of 80s movie tapes like Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Its seemed even brighter and airier than the temporary condo. The kitchen was fully stocked. There were windows on either side so a nice cross-breeze. I never had the air conditioner on. I could hear and see the sea.
Something had shifted in me that enabled me to see how lovely my condo was!
I was able to laugh at other things – the parking garage that had an oceanfront view – oh to be a car, or to set up my tent in there! The lack of patio furniture – an invitation to bring a comfy indoor chair out! The sign that said “do not drape towels over the railing” – so bathing suits are okay to drape?
The key for me was noticing and acceptance – in laughing, I was accepting that I was running away from something that bothered me. There were many options – in fact I could have swept the floor myself, and there were cleaning supplies right there in the condo. Or I could have taken the next flight home. Or just left my shoes on. So it was all completely okay. There was no judgement – after all, I’ve run away countless times from things I didn’t like in the past.
What is different now?
A space has opened up between the stimulus and my response. A space of compassion and joy. A space of insight. A space of choice, of freedom.
I am excited to play with this more spacious, tranquil and free version of myself. I am excited to bring this to all who I speak to and work with.
Meditation has many gifts. I can heartily recommend Vipassana meditation. The retreats are by donation to allow anyone who wants to attend.