Back from the retreat. What a beautiful place the high desert is. We even had a rainstorm. I ran three times, which I’d never done at a retreat and it worked out very well – no interruption of concentration or practice (although the running itself wasn’t particularly concentrated, as I’m not well practiced at meditating-while-running).
I came to the retreat having my head crammed full of Theravada teachings. I was ready to take my home practice, which has been strong since the last retreat and highly inspired by my studies — and use the abundant time to dive deep and unlock the insights underlying reality. I felt ready to go.
Turns out, having that much intellectual material, expectation for practice, thoughts-of-self as meditator, and hopes of repeated experience isn’t a recipe for success on the cushion.
I spent the first day and a half extremely focused on breath at the nostrils. Thoughts were brief, seen quickly and released. Body sensations other than the breath were included at times during ‘awareness of breathing with the entire body’ practices, but otherwise weren’t a hinderance. Concentration built up quickly. But off the cushion I wasn’t feeling the amazing connectedness, the merging with the desert, or the present moment awareness sense of awe. Disappointment arose, along with thoughts of self and a sense of “trying to make something happen”. I started to see that the retreat I’d come to wasn’t the retreat I was on… I’d brought my own agenda and I wasn’t in tune with what the teachers were offering. So I changed it up.
I began focusing on my breath in my belly instead of at the nostrils. This may not sound revolutionary, but it really changed my practice. I felt like a beginner. I couldn’t tell if I was controlling my breathing or letting it be natural (a common meditation experience for beginners, and one I hadn’t had in years). My thoughts began to swirl along with feelings and cravings and desires – I seemed to have disturbed my concentrated and empty mind, but I also had more to work with. Seeing the thoughts as thoughts, feelings as feelings, coming back to the breathing — I’d finally joined the retreat.