About a year ago, I was halfway through my first Vipassana meditation retreat. Nine days of 4 a.m. wakeup calls and repetitive stretches of motionless perching atop my rotund biscuit of a meditation cushion. This was basically how all the days went: Oh, let’s see what’s next on the schedule…surprise! More meditation! Literally the exact same thing I just finished doing! Also, there was no talking, no reading, no writing (I admit I cheated on this one), no running, no phones, no communication with the outside world.
And it was pretty good actually.
I quickly realized there were infinite layers to the quiet stillness – endless depths of dark intensity and mesmerizing mystery to sink into and explore. It was quite mystical really, and I was never bored.
But nine days was a lot.
There was also the butt numbness (lord, the butt numbness!) I couldn’t even look at my meditation cushion for months after, and it took several weeks for full sensation to return to my tailbone-pelvis region.
But through the good and the painful, there were lessons to be had, and this is a brief story of the one that was most impactful:
There was a day, mid-week, when I was doing my daily 30-ish minutes of walking meditation outside and feeling an internal struggle about that. Because even though, yes, this was technically meditation, it was also in violation of the rules. We were supposed to meditate seated and indoors only. And my desire to be a good student and follow the instructions exactly right was beginning to haunt me. But…these blessed minutes outside and moving were one of the few things keeping me tethered to my sanity at that point.
So I had a decision to make: How was I going to do this? Bend the rules and do what I wanted, or adhere to the clearly outlined authoritative directives?
The answer came in a flash (all that meditation must have opened a portal or something). I remembered that I was in convenient possession of an internal guidance system, and I could find my answers by reading my body.
Basically, my heart is a trustworthy barometer.
And when I thought about it, I saw there was no way around this. Generally speaking, there are too many voices competing for my allegiance and too much noise demanding my attention to discern the answers from external sources alone.
It was a defining moment, not just for my meditation practice, but also for my understanding of my place in the larger collective moment. This was November 2016. The election had just happened, and I spent a lot of the week sitting (literally) with my fear, shock, and uncertainty, feeling flooded and overwhelmed. There would be so many causes to support and issues to confront, infinite things to say or not say, do or not do, in the months and years ahead. And I felt completely ill-equipped, lost and unsure how to be in this world that always existed but that I was now seeing for the first time.
So I decided this was what I would take back with me into the noise, commotion, and conflict: a steadfast trust in my own self.
This doesn’t mean I can do it alone. I need other people – their wisdom, their voice, the truth of their experience. But rather than conceding to another’s perspective uncritically, I take it in, hold it in my being, filter it through my center, and allow it to change me. Reliably, good things come through this process of integration and alchemy.
In the case of my meditation conundrum, I kept walking. It was a beautiful, sort-of warm day (the last one of the year), and my heart knew: that was reason enough.