“Start again with a calm and quiet mind” was the mantra of my meditation guru during an 11 day silent retreat in the northern mountains of British Columbia in August of 2008. I hated hearing those words and I heard them 1000 times over the 11 days in a deep, slow, raw yet purposeful voice.
I had come to a crossroad in my professional life and I felt it was time for me to leave my successful consulting business behind. I had created some amazing firsts for my community, and myself yet it was time to leave.
I still marvel at the volume of discomfort that many of my friends had with the notion of me walking away from $100K or more per year, with no sense of what was next. Although at times I proclaimed being ok with not knowing, there were other times that letting go of my perceived security was rather daunting.
In early 1994, while living on the Island of Maui, I learned vipassana meditation. It was said to be the meditation used by Buddha. It’s simple in form, using breath as your focus, yet enormously challenging because you are invited not to move during the time you are sitting. In her book, “Eat Pray Love”, Elizabeth Gilbert describes vipassana as the “most brutal form of meditation.” The words meditation and brutal should not mix.
While contemplating my exit from the consulting business two ideas came to mind. The first was to sit on the Island of Maui for a month to recharge and the second was to do an 11-day noble, silent retreat (noble meant no talking, no eye contact with anyone, no writing, no reading, no communication). Vipassana International offered these 11 days silent retreats all over the world. I noticed tremendous fear with the thought of 11 days of silence.
Perhaps my next step in life awaited me on Little Beach in Maui or in the pine scented mountains of Merritt, British Columbia? I felt like I was playing all of the characters from the movie, “Ghost Busters”, the difference was that I wasn’t really chasing anything (I thought). I would come to learn something was actually chasing me.
Maui’s gift was divine rest. This sacred place continues to nurture my soul and always delivers such life altering experiences. This time around, it opened my heart to the power of ‘feeling’ energy. I’d come back home with a clearer sense of what feelings were vital in order for my heart to grow and heal.
Mustering as much courage as I could, my next stop was the Vipassana Centre in Merritt, BC. Myself and fifty one other people were about to take an inner journey that scared the living s@#t out of me. It was appalling and quite comical the volume of excuses I conjured up to make sure I didn’t sit for the meditation retreat.
The clean, crisp mountain air was generously laden with pine. I’d never been surrounded by such immense forest and perhaps it was good because it might serve to absorb the screams that I expected would come out of me from sitting from 4:30am – 10:30pm for 11 days. Jesus, Mary and Joseph!
I’m always intrigued by my ego’s desire to trick me into thinking I’ve got it all figured out or at least my ego does. My ego and me can be so arrogant. The next 11 days were set to be the biggest battle of my life. What I noticed to be present was this voice that said, “It’s ok not to know.”
From the moment I sat down to meditate, literally the very moment, my mind began to hatch a scheme for me to escape from this retreat. Every conceivable excuse flew through my mind. I grabbed as many I as I could and allowed them to unfold. I can’t even remember the number of people who died, were in accidents, had grave illnesses all for the sake of me to bolt from this spiritually based prison. At the time laughter was not an option. Instead I felt immense sadness and gut wrenching pain.
I, of course had every man in the place as gay. It was just another plot by my ego to focus on anything except the rising and falling of my breath. To say it was “hell”, albeit a “noble hell”, would be putting it mildly.
Day one felt like an eternity. After our first of only two meal breaks we were allowed to walk around a designated area. Like my attempt to rope off my mind, they roped off a small area to meander through. I invented a game that allowed me one full circle around a grove of trees per successful day of meditation. The definition of success was not leaving.
Eleven days of silence taught me a myriad of lessons and it taught me nothing. The most significant lesson, which dawned on me at 4:00am to the sound of a Tibetan chime, that I didn’t need to know anything on that day. My work was to notice my breath, be present, acknowledge a thought, and come back to breath.
As I made my 11th circle, on the 11th day, it dawned on me that I had spent my entire life circling around a story that some part of me, namely my ego, created a desperate lie that ‘not knowing’ was the worst place for me to be. And then I started again with a calm and quiet mind.