By Tammy T. Stone
It’s Day Nine of a 10 of a meditation retreat.
For eight days, we’ve been following a rigid structure of sitting meditation, walking meditation, seva (chores or service), and listening to Dharma talks. The days are bookended by a gentle, pre-dawn yoga practice and barefooted evening walks around lakes scantily illuminated by breezy white lanterns.
These activities help mark the passage of time, even as they slip into an ethereal space as untethered to the ground as the thoughts, feelings, memories and fears they are enfolding and ever-generating.
On this 9th day, we’re instructed to meditate in our own rhythm.
I’m excited, but full of trepidation; something that’s been simmering is about to erupt. For days I’ve been feeling unrest, harboring a persistent sense of doom despite the simultaneous feeling that I’m as close to satisfaction as I’ve ever been.
I hear over and over that merely finding myself with the opportunity to meditate and having access to the Dharma is an incredible feat of forces and beautiful seeds coming to fruition—and I believe this. But I can’t shake the nausea that this familiar, incipient darkness brings.
I decide to sit on my cushion (which is on sand, in the glorious open air), and not get up until whatever’s in there finds its way out.
After about two and a half hours, the longest I’ve ever sat in one go, it finally happens.
I come face to face with the beast inside of me that doesn’t care about seeds coming to fruition, which will never believe satisfaction is possible.
Because this beast is of a relentless nature causing, among other things, restlessness and victimization, and because there is absolutely nothing currently triggering these states of being, I have an aha moment: dissatisfaction and victimization are so profoundly ingrained in the core of my being that they might well come from a place that is pre-rational— pre-linguistic, even.
They are enmeshed in my very make-up, breathe though my soul’s every movement, and when nothing is actually wrong, I continually invent things that are wrong so that my circumstances match this inner monster.
Which is what is happening now.
I sit in paradise, and the monster has come to taunt me or to allow itself to be witnessed.
As I sit on the cushion face to face with these terrifying parts of myself, an incredible sadness comes over me. Here I am, facing my naked victimhood—naked precisely because I no longer have an excuse.
I am happy.
I have nothing or no one to blame or cause, nothing to think through or justify or even ignore. Yet, it just is, and remains. I silently cry, and rest in weary wonder over this pure and unadulterated state of things.
Later in the afternoon, I decide to do some walking meditation. I choose a path that will take me in a square U-turn shape, past a barely-used wooden meditation hall, a coconut grove and the length of a dormitory. I won’t stop until I reach a great big tree at the end of the dormitory that I’d been gravitating to ever since we arrived. I need to walk with the raw emotions I’ve uncovered and don’t know what to do with, and walking always gives me such great comfort.
At this very slow pace I’ve set for myself, though, this amounts to a pilgrimage. Barefoot, I get started, and soon after it starts to rain—first in small, fairy dust-like spurts, and then in heavier pelts. I move into the wooden meditation hall and stand watching the rain, and when it lets up,
I go to great lengths to ensure I don’t rush or miss even one step. Hardly moving, life feels engorged and animated on overdrive. I see life happening in my midst.
Two birds peek out of through the bushes from the swamp-like outer border of the retreat area, and try to venture out into my path for food. They talk to each other, disappear and emerge time and time again. I watch this for at least 10 minutes, the meditation hall still in view.
My road is endless; it’s impossible to think about the end of the journey, or even time. I think to myself that this is what youth feels like.
I turned right into the coconut grove. Ants crawl on my feet continually and mosquitoes come visit my near-still figure. I devise a way to move in an almost tai chi fashion, so I can keep balance, move forward and keep the mosquitoes away at the same time.
This leg of the journey is like middle age: I am strong, wild and free, with a past and a future I can conceive of. As soon as I turn right again, I am at once near the end of my journey and facing a long path I can hardly bear to traverse.
Soon a man comes into view, sitting in front of the dorm. I inch forward, trying to keep my awareness on the movement of my feet. I am fully embodied now, bursting open and more human than I’ve maybe ever felt; my body is now moving according to its own principles and all I can do is witness it.
It dawns on me that in this state, the victimhood has gone. There is no longer room for emotion in this near-delirious state, or rather, a new kind of emotion emerges between my body and the space around me, and I am not an outsider to this, because there is so much love, but nor do I feel so …invested.
I am somehow under my emotions in the soil, and above them in the sky, and making friends with them in the confines of my steadily moving body.
In this way, two and a half hours after I began, I reach my fantasy tree, in the light rain. I look down the feet that have brought me here, and smile.
Tammy T. Stone is a Canadian writer, photographer and chronicler of life as it passes through us. Always a wanderer, she’s endlessly mesmerized by people, places and everything in between; the world is somehow so vast and so small. She feels so lucky to have been able to work, learn, live and travel far and wide, writing, photographing and wellness-practicing along the way. She invites you to see some of her recent photography here and to connect with her on her writer’s page, Twitter and her blog, There’s No War in World, here.
Editor: Daniel Scharpenburg/Dana Gornall