Later today, I am heading out to my first-ever Buddhist weekend meditation retreat in central Massachusetts. I’m a little nervous, but let me tell you the karagöz puppets that accompany me everywhere are even more nervous than I am.
Last year, another close friend took me to a daylong meditation retreat – he said “Liz, you really need this, you need to come to this daylong retreat with me and learn to meditate. No is not an option!”
And so I did and it was a shake-up good experience, but what I found so hard about the work of essentially relaxing and tuning in, was that I could not even find my own breath which was the central purpose of the type of meditation we were doing.
It scared me that I was that out of touch with my body or my mind or both – I wasn’t even sure how to refer to it all. It was just me on the gerbil wheel with the Karagöz puppets flying around the gerbil wheel as they held on for dear life to stay with me in my constant mad dash aka my life at the time.
And of course the sea changes that have happened in the past year – especially in the last six months with the loss of my father and this shoulder injury and my midlife work crisis – well things are really changing. And I think I do need to stop and not so much relax, but really tune in to what’s inside of me and what I’m disconnected from.
So given that December’s BlogHer NaBloPoMo topic is on work or contemplating work, I am choosing this time to contemplate on the work of meditation vs. today’s other work-related prompt.
Before he left this morning, M. had a lot to say about meditation. He sat with me very serious and sparkly, “you know, I’m glad you’re doing this for you. I guess I’ve just always known how to meditate.
Frustrated, I said “you meditate when you’re doing your art? Or looking at Turkish soap operas on the Internet?”
Ignoring the bait, he said “I meditate almost every moment in my life to clear my mind and just be present in that moment.”
Looking at him askance, a bit jealous, I posited “I guess you’re Buddhist,” a little bit teasingly, knowing what his reaction would likely be. And it was.
“I am not a Buddhist, I am not anything, I am just me. I’ve seen enough of what organized religion or spirituality can do to damage things in the world. And I want none of it.” I remember that he is likely referring to the Iranian revolution that happened in the country so near him – during his formative years.
In my mind, I’m horrified because I’m sure the Buddhists would be horrified to hear this view of his – peace-loving bunch that they are. But mostly I just focus on how I’ve found this guy who can do the impossible, or what the impossible is for me – to clear my mind.
There is nary a moment that goes by where my academically trained and perhaps overly analytical brain is assessing at least five different things and running two different experiments.
It would be such a relief just to clear my mind and focus on the present in a way that wasn’t analytical. I am hoping that some of M.’s innate skill at meditation will slink over my way. So I’m ready to go to this Buddhist meditation retreat now.
Now, I may be ready to go to a Buddhist meditation center for the weekend, without a electronics, without distraction, to eat delicious vegetarian food, to learn about Buddhism, something I don’t know much about, but I’m not sure my Karagöz puppets are. They are protesting a little bit.
Karagöz is flipping and turning and somersaulting in protest. “Meditation? Pshaw! My expertise is banshee behavior, that’s my specialty and ain’t no way I’m gonna sit silently and listen for my breath, I mean why would any idiot do that? I just want to be an agent provocateur and maybe I’ll just run around the meditation room to wake everybody up so they can’t listen to their breath and can’t focus on being mindful. I’ll whistle & fart & belch for human ears to hear. I need to keep going, I need to get going and keep going – I need to instigate instigate instigate! I resist this meditation retreat, I am not going unless I can raise hell!
Tiryaki, the opium addict puppet, has just taken his first toke of the morning to calm his nerves and sooth his soul. So he is a different story. He is at his best just after his toke, before he nods off into a drugged sleep, falling into the arms of the addiction that has carried him for so long. I suppose he’s a metaphor for my addiction to workaholism these days as I don’t touch the stuff anymore.
Anyway, Tiryaki, as you may recall, is sort of a surfer dude and so he says “dude, man, yeah, I like Buddhist meditation right on, chilling to the max, I can totally get with that. Yeah – and that food man it’s pretty good you know you think it’s going to be all weird and hippie-like shit but actually it’s going to be really really good and you know it’s good to like take care of your body even if you’re addicted to some kind of weird drug. Let’s roll!”
Okay, I guess he’s in.
As for Safiye Rakkase, the vainglorious dancing girl puppet, I don’t hear much from her. I just see her rushing around the house trying to figure out what the best fashion for a Buddhist meditation retreat could be. I remind her that it’s going to involve comfortable clothes and sensible shoes and she shoots me the look of death. But I guess she’s in too, Prada or no Prada.
Kenne the Queen of manners and the maintenance of ladylike behavior and etiquette, is stumped. I actually woke up to the sound of turning pages, thick parchment pages filled with illuminated script and pages of newsprint paper fluttering – all part of her etiquette book collection. She’s trying to find out the proper etiquette for comportment at a Buddhist meditation center.
Throwing her hands up and uncharacteristically giving up, she says, “well, when in doubt, it’s like at a dinner party watch what’s the hostess does and mimic that. So I guess that’s what will have to do. Maybe this is a chance for me to write a book on the etiquette of Buddhist meditation retreat center behavior.” And she scurries off to pack her bags. So I guess she’s in as well.
Then then the nervous Nellie puppet, like a jar of quivery jelly, well she’s anxious and ringing her hands.
“What if, what if, what if we can’t find our breath again. What if it doesn’t work this meditation, what if it makes us feel upset or anxious as we’re sitting there with our thoughts – I know I mean we’re supposed to be noticing our thoughts not engaging with our thoughts, but what if we can’t? Oh my! Oh dear! Oh no! Should I even try to do this if I’m not sure I can? Maybe I’ll fail.”
But I noticed that she packed her bags. And those bags are waiting in the hallway by the door.
As I go into the kitchen, I notice that there is a small circle of puppets sitting quietly around one of the orchids in a circle, their legs are all in the lotus position and I can see that they are meditating. And of course it is these parts of me that are able to do this kind of work, I guess.
The group includes: Hacivad Bey, Yehuda Rebbe, Esma the hippie puppet and Bebe Ruhi, the giggly puppet with Dwarfism. I am surprised to see him there. He looks over at me and says “M’lady, with my disability you need to meditate a lot to get over the ways that people stigmatize you – so this is nothing new to me. If I can do it you can do it.”
And so, with this variety of feelings, we’re all heading over there and we’ll just have to see what happens. It seems to me that the title of this meditation retreat, “Patience: Emptying the ocean with a teacup,” is probably just what we all need.
So, I/we will report back in a couple of days about how the work of meditation went for us. Until then, may you be well. And may you enjoy the posts I have pre-written and put into the publishing queue for the days I am away.