How does one screw up your own retreat, you may ask? Well. You can’t.
A retreat is an act of withdrawing. Nobody says how that withdrawing is supposed to work or what it’s supposed to produce. It just is. One withdraws and sees what happens. (Or, more specifically, one meditates.)
But I did screw up: I went into my meditation retreat with expectations. (How dare I?!) And I ended up experiencing one of the top ten most shocking moments of my life to date.
I expected a refuge. Somehow I doubt this is an uncommon expectation for those going to a meditation retreat, though few might admit it because We Don’t Harbor Expectations Here. *cough* In any event, I expected something similar to my last one, a 10 day vipassana retreat filled with the usual ups and downs and Flower Staring.
Yet, when I walked into my room, it had the exact same fucking layout as the psych ward room. Take off some square footage, add a nurse pull, and it was the same goddamned room. Same color. Same window ledge looking out onto rooftop. Same sink next to the bed. Same door angle. Same visitor chair.
Apparently it used to be an Alzheimer’s patient care facility. Go figure.
Only I could go to a retreat looking for peace and get one of the biggest triggers of my life.
I panicked. I spent the rest of the retreat sleeping in a meeting room, hallucinating during sitting meditations, and trying really really hard to focus on the cups of tea that I made compulsively every couple hours. (I have a theory that enough tea would fix the world.) The retreat manager K was super kind to me, checking in once or twice a day to make sure I was all right. If K ever reads this, I apologize. I wasn’t okay half of the times you asked me. I thought I would be, but I allow my stubborn and perfectionist thoughts to convince me that I can handle almost anything. I sure as hell couldn’t handle that room, though. I feel so very blessed that you were the retreat manager on call that night. I started scratching at my arms like mad– every little bump or mole or scar I tried to scratch off. Oh the joys of dermatillomania.
Actually, I’m still scratching usually without realising that I’m doing it. (No I apparently cannot be mindful enough to stop picking, even when I bandage them up or wear long sleeves: I will pick off the bandage and then the scab or just plain pick off the scab THROUGH my sleeve without realizing I did it. I’ve cut my nails short, but somehow I can still angle the Lack of Fingernail just right. I’ve taped up my fingers, but apparently tape itself can pick off a scab. It’s fucking ridiculous that my brain decided that anything short of smooth skin is an abomination, especially considering that scratching it to hell does the exact opposite. But bloody divets are better than regular bumps, apparently. I’m such a mindfulness failure. (I’m so sorry, J!) (Judging… judging…)
Okay, it’s 4AM, and I am blatantly avoiding sleep because the nightmares are back. But here is my point: sometimes one finds peace in a retreat, and sometimes one finds the issues standing in the way of finding that peace. It’s very rude of retreats to do that, in my opinion. Most inconsiderate. My arms are suffering the consequence.
I didn’t find the obstacle; I found a SWAT roadblock.
Next retreat, I solemnly swear that I will expect nothing. Even tea. I won’t expect tea, either. (Though honestly, what meditation retreat doesn’t have tea?!)
For the Love of Metta,