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Mindful : August 2014
August 2014 mindful 39 media mismatched or several decades out of style. One guy is wearing pleated acid-washed jeans. Breakfast is followed by a break, and then the second sitting of the day. Even though I’ve retreated to my chair, I a m nonetheless besieged by scream- ing back pain. I still can’t maintain concentration for more tha n one or two breaths. Perhaps because I’m having some sort of performance anxiety, the meditation is much harder for me here than it is at home. I feel like a rookie who’s been called up to the big leagues and just can’t cut it. I cannot believe I’m going to be sitting in this chair, here in this room, with these people, for the next nine days of my life. During the first period of walking meditation, I’m at a loss. I have no idea what walking medita- tion even means, so I decide to just take a stroll. There are lots of animals here: salamanders, baby deer, wild turkeys. They come right up to you, totally unafraid. Apparently the “commitment to non-ha rming ” memo has reached the woodland creatures. And the humans take it very seriously. Last night, I saw a guy in the meditation hall make a big show out of ushering a bug out of the room on a sheet of paper rather tha n squashing it. The third sitting is even more of a nightmare. My body has now found a new way to revolt: my mouth keeps filling up with saliva. I’m trying not to move, but this situation is untenable. I can’t sit here with a mouth full of spit. So I swallow. Every time I gulp it down, though, my mouth refills almost immediately. This, of course, completely derails my attempts to establish any rhythm whatsoever with my breath. My interior monologue now centers a lmost entirely on when the session will end. Did I just hear the stupid bell? Is that the bell? No, it’s not the bell. Shit. Shit, Shit, Shit, Shit, Shit... Shit. Today is my thirty-ninth birthday. I am confident it will be the worst birthday ever. The morning meditation is a n epic battle with sleepiness. I can feel fatigue oozing down my fore- head. I am overcome by the desire to burrow into this fuzzy oblivion. The next sitting is a festival of pain, sa liva, cough- ing, and fidgeting. My heart pounds. I feel shame and anger as I swallow, snort, and shift in my chair. Heat rushes to my cheeks. I must be driving the people near me crazy. I try to be mindful of it all, but I’m sta rting to forget what mindfulness even mea ns. Straight torture, son. Off the cushion, my misery is also intensifying. Most of my thoughts center on how I can possibly survive six more days here. I recognize that part of the goal of a retreat is to systematically strip away all of the things we use—sex, work, email, food, TV— to avoid a confrontation with what’s been called “ the wound of existence.” The only way to make it through this thing is to reach some sort of armistice with the present moment, to drop our habit of con- stantly leaning forward into the next thing on our agenda. I just can’t seem to do it, though. I wonder if the others can tell that I’m strug- gling. Everyone else here seems so serene. I mean, there are some ostentatiously mindful people here. There’s one guy staying on my floor who I have liter- ally never seen moving in anything but slow motion. I really thought it would be easier by now. This is way worse than jet lag. I’m starting to worry that I’m going to have to come home and tell everyone that I failed. I do the last walking meditation session of the night in the upstairs area, above the meditation hall. I’m struggling to stay focused on lifting, moving, placing, with my mind wandering variously to thoughts of watching TV, eating cookies, and sleep- ing. At the end of one back-and-forth, I look up and see a statue of the Buddha. Silently, I send him the following message: Fuck you. For the next sitting, I decide to take a chair from my bedroom and put it out on the balcony at the end of the hallway in my dorm. I tell myself I’m going to lower the volume, to stop straining so much. I’ll just sit here and “be with” whatever happens. I can hear the others in the distance, walking back into the meditation hall for the start of the ses- sion. Then it gets really quiet. I sit, casually feeling my breath. No big deal. Whatever, man. → Every time I gulp it down, my mouth refills with spit, completely derailing my attempts to establish any rhythm whatsoever with my breath.