It started with a dare: "Do something you wouldn't normally do, make it bold, and do it solely for yourself." One of our favorite waitresses at one of our favorite restaurants just recommended I step outside my comfort zone as a birthday present to myself.
Bold, huh? Well, I'm not quite the thrill seeker guy but I have walked on hot coals -- twice. The first time just 12 feet, the latter 33. I've eaten fire. I've made friends with stage freight on the way between my name being called and me stepping on the stage in front of thousands. I've opened my heart in the face of great pain and have met and loved my shadow self.
So I thought the self-centered challenge of a 12-day silent meditation retreat might fit the bill.
“The silence would be easy,” I thought, “I don’t mind my own company. I’ll listen to Spirit, tell myself a few jokes, you know…
And having been an active meditator for over a decade, I didn’t think the meditation itself would be that difficult either. What I did perceive as difficult -- the "bold" part if you will, was being away from my wife Maria for that long.
As many of you know, we only married about 2 and a half years ago, so we both sort of feel like we’re still on our honeymoon. We do know that our relationship is strong enough to thrive even when we don’t see each other. We both know that we have our personal external missions to share with the world and that our inner work makes us better as individuals. We can therefore be in each other’s company without heavy attachments or fears of codependency. But that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t miss each other.
To make matters a bit more challenging, there was no Wi-Fi or cell phone reception on the campus (yeah, I know, first world problems) so we couldn’t communicate verbally or through email. And just to make sure you’re not distracted by anything external, they ask you to check in your cell phones, wallet, etc. so you can really be there, and just there. WHAT?!?! NO FACEBOOK!?!?!?
And so it began…
Between each conscious breath, my mind made up a scenario that Maria was angry with me for doing this. In truth, she supported me fully, but this fear was coming up for me beyond any level of truth. When not met with love, fear expands. The fear grew so big that I couldn't see the golden opportunity to meet these and other repressed emotions in need of healing head on. Rather, they began to take over.
I’ve found that when seen through the eyes of love and acceptance, all so-called “negative emotions” lose their power. As I am often fond of sharing with my clients, “What you own can no longer own you.” But it didn’t work out that way.
It wasn't the job of anyone there to play counselor, and had the tides been reversed and I was able to, I’d invite the person to sit in their feelings and hold space for them. If they were committed to growth, I’d help see them through, knowing that the details in being committed can alter in a New York minute, but the overall commitment to growing will always be there. At this retreat, however, I didn’t have that type of 1:1 support system. This was a group retreat with 80 people in extended silence. And when I say extended, I mean extended! In fact, scheduled meditation time was ten hours and forty-five minutes per day. Yes, almost 11 hours a day in meditation!
On Day 3 I'd had enough.
Queue the self-criticism. After all, I did commit to this!
What kind of message was I sending out to the Universe? That my commitments aren’t worth anything? That I’m not to be trusted? All these thoughts and inquiries pervaded my psyche until I remembered what T Harv Eker told me, and I’ll paraphrase: If you quit on your commitment, just make another commitment. Or what I call, “Gather. Rinse. Repeat.”
- Gather information. Humbly accept your humanity. Ask for feedback. Learn from it.
- Rinse: Own your part. Apologize as necessary and mean it. If possible, make up for it.
- Repeat: Recommit. Try your best to do better next time.
UH-OH, the three letter word!?!?!
Yes, I used the word “try.” Far be it from me to argue with Yoda, but to me, trying is not a bad thing. Trying is doing but without attachment.
At least I could honor the persons there and the process for what I did experience (Rinse), right? I apologized for taking someone’s spot who could have used it more efficiently than I. I offered to pay for my entire stay but they refused, saying they only take money from someone if that person found their time there efficacious and that I couldn’t make that determination not having completed the course. Logical.
So now I need to re-commit to meditation and personal growth. And I’ll follow what I often share with my clients, “Just do/be your best by doing/being the best you can do/be. And know that your best can vary from day to day, moment to moment."
Meaning, brief periods of guilt can inspire us to do better, but extended self-criticism can only keep us down. The path will wander but the end goal of personal growth is always still there.
When I accepted that as fact, a new awareness arose within me in the most unique and convoluted way one can imagine. Without trying to explain how Spirit works in my life in too much detail, suffice it to say I became more aware my own old, buried guilt toward the feminine way beyond that which was showing up at the meditation course around leaving Maria’s side for 12 days. (Having been raised in America I have spent some time being a more “typical” male that led me to believe that sex is more important than love, that being cool is better than opening the heart, and that my life, my partner and myself had to look like the photoshopped worlds we saw in the media, etc.). I was also feeling the guilt of many men in similar situations who are now waking up to the pains they’ve unconsciously created via judgment and criticism, comparing who we are and who our partners are to the media-created unrealistic norm, and more importantly, closing the heart when ideally it should be opened--even if that hurts a bit.
Now I can meet this guilt with love and sound, and reach out for support that would not have been possible at the retreat. My commitment to healing and growing has continued but in a different way than planned. Who here can relate to that one?!?!
What have you committed to and then quit on? New Year’s Resolutions? Promises to stay off the sugar, alcohol, or to exercise more? How long till you found yourself back in your old patterns? Or a smaller version of those patterns and then beat yourself up for failing? We all do this, and it’s okay.
Commitments and perceived failures (more like bumps in the road!), can be opportunities to learn and grow, even if they don't appear that way at first. I think as long as we learn who we are in the process and recommit—and ideally have others hold us accountable—we can face challenges large and small. We can better know all aspects of ourselves, not just the happy shiny parts, but the dreams fallen short, the frustrations that come with being human on this planet at this time, and our entire shadow self that needs to be integrated rather than hidden. Everything needs to come out into the light to be healed.