This past weekend, I chose to sit inside, meditating in silence for about six hours each day. This experience is also known as Shambhala Buddhism Level Two training: Birth of the Warrior. A pretty bad-ass title for two days of sitting in a room.
The last time I did a Shambhala retreat, I was in the midst of a big life experience (sudden knowledge that I had to leave a long-term relationship). I had a giant, live, crazy, scary thing on my plate. In one way, it was intense and hard. In another way, when you have something so obvious to deal with, it is like meditating with crayons, or performing simple math. The center of compassion is large and pretty easy to find. Don’t blame him, don’t blame me, don’t move from this football field of pain. Got it. I knew exactly what I was giving in to. Also, I was so immersed in grief that to some degree it was a relief to just sit there and feel it, to let it wash over me, to not even try and fight its sweet sadness.
This weekend was like meditating with watercolors. No huge experiences . . . nothing major to get through. Just some low-grade, run of the mill aimlessness and anxiety with no identifiable source. Although these feelings were muted, they were impossible to ignore. Every time I sat and breathed, and opened up to the moment, I would come up with: Ugh. I don’t want to be here. why can’t I be doing something fantastic, like exploring the jungle in Bali (yes, despite my commitment to inner exploration instead of exotic vacations). Or I would end up worrying about something small I said earlier that day. Or I would just get bored. In my body, I experienced a vague, jumpy restlessness.
So I did what I thought a good spiritual warrior was supposed to do. I stared that shit down and tried to MAKE it fight me. Instead of practicing touch-and-go (lightly touching a feeling/sensation on the in-breath, and then releasing the connection on the out-breath), I was doing confront-and-noisily-exhale. Every time I breathed in and that mediocre blah-ness was still there, I was in its face like a disgruntled security guard tailing a suspected shoplifter. “You can do whatever you want Low-Level Anxiety, but I’ve got my eye on you buddy. Just don’t try any funny stuff.” I somehow thought that by paying very tight close attention, I was being brave and acknowledging the reality of my suffering.
Obviously, this form of meditation is not super fun. It started to dawn on me that my internal image of warriorship was way out of whack. I had been imagining a stoic figure fearlessly, yet grimly, facing an uncomfortable moment. I was determined to suck it up, go outside into the crappy now, and not even wear a coat. But why so sad, Ms. Spiritual Warrior? What if I could be present during uncomfortable feelings and have a good time? What if the right warrior posture was more like a surfer riding a wave–loose, happy, and in flow with the constant movement of life? (Or to reference another love of mine, fluid like a capoerista playing a really good game?)
So I relaxed and let myself off the hook. I still paid attention to what was going on . . . to the feelings of anxiety, to my breath, to the opening and closing of my heart. But the quality of my attention was easy and carefree. And it was dynamic! I realized that just because I was resting in awareness did not mean that I was stuck watching life because, guess what–life itself is never still. So I allowed my consciousness to be gracefully lifted by each moment. Instead of trying to challenge my anxiety, I just let it dissolve into a larger natural rhythm. Instead of feeling like I was forced to sit there, I practiced joyful surrender to the ebb and flow of life. Someone who staffed that weekend later told me that Shambhala teachers often compare this quality of awareness to a beach ball floating on top of the sea. Yes! But it is also tender. I gave my heart away with each breath. I allowed myself to fall–deeply, warmly–and I was met.
So as I was feeling my way into this shift, I went to lunch (sidenote: where I had the best chorizo taco outside of Mexico City, props to Cacao Mexicatessan.) Someone gave me a ride, and in her car I noticed an audiobook from Pema Chodron (a famous and wonderful Shambhala teacher). And I started to crack up. The title? Hint: it was not “Standing Stock-Still and Staring the Shit Out of Pain.” It was “Smiling Into Fear.” Point taken.
After the retreat, I have continued to practice my Spiritual Surfing technique. As I let my inner awareness freely flow, I can feel my own limited tight energy merge with a larger radiant movement. It feels vital and charged. Definitely the same amazing vibe that originally gave birth to the name threedeelife. Then, as I was writing this post. I came across a perfect description for this energy from a recent Sharon Salzberg (vipassana Buddhist teacher) post on Kriss Carr’s blog: “In Pali, the language of the original Buddhist texts, the term for the potent and alive energy of awareness is “tejos.” The word has several meanings. It can mean heat, flame, fire, or light, and it conveys a sense of splendor and radiance and glory. Tejos refers to a very bright energy, a strength, and a power that is luminous.” How beautiful. Like a flame, the energy of life needs the right balance of attention and space to burn bright. When you relax into that balanced awareness, you connect with the energy of the flame, of the moment, of the wave.