One More Chance to Be Here NowSeptember 19th, 2010 © by Susan Swartz
I’ve had meditation on my to-do list for a long time. Mindfulness appears to be a contented state populated by calm, sane people who move slowly, wear their serenity like a summer sheath and have private smiles indicating that they know something others don’t quite get. They are not rushing around with disheveled minds, tripping over the dog and losing their keys.
I thought I might attempt the mindful thing some day. I was too pre-occupied in the 1960s and 70s to “Be Here Now.” That was for hippies who didn’t work, I thought. Besides I wasn’t sure I had the temperament for meditation. I tend to reach more outward than inward. And who has time to just sit?
Now that I am part of the population of unstructured, part-time self-employed, I can give myself a day to listen and not talk. So, for my birthday, I booked a one-day retreat at Spirit Rock meditation center in Marin. My serene friend Neva has been going there for years and I tagged along. It was like going to camp for the first time, and I wanted a buddy.
The cluster of handsome rustic buildings with signs warning “silence please” is a favorite spot for Buddhist teaching but you don’t have to become a Buddhist to meditate. Spirituality-wise, I’m not sure what I am. I’d have to check the box that says “still looking.” But I felt ready to work on being in the moment.
Neva said meditation helps shut out the din and considering the amount of din we’re in, a time-out seemed in order. Inside, she took a chair, got a pillow for her feet and back and wrapped in a blanket. We looked like dowagers bundled on the deck of a cruise ship.
To not talk, I found, was a relief more than a challenge. It was surprisingly comfortable to be with 60 people for seven hours and not need to say anything witty or at all.
Our teacher, the famous Jewish Buddhist author Sylvia Boorstein, said we would start by sitting for 20 minutes. In yoga class the teacher often includes a short meditation during which we are to visualize a place of peace and beauty. But I seldom get there. I scramble to get to a beach or maybe the mountains and then she rings a bell and it’s over.
At Spirit Rock I wondered about what to visualize and the guy behind me coughing and when would I go to the Ladies Room. I checked my watch to see my skittery thoughts had taken up two minutes. Then I remembered Sylvia saying sometimes it works to just sit and let your body and mind find its natural peace.
Suddenly the 20 minutes were over and I grinned at my friend. So something had happened. Or nothing had happened.
We took our lunch out in the sun. I tried to chew mindfully. No one whispered or checked their messages. On the hill above sat a Buddha statue, pensive and plump as a happy cat.
Having a relaxed mind comes easier when you are in a quiet, safe spot separate from the real world. I did have a wild worry about the nutty prayerful out there who attack other people’s religions and what if some day they go after those who sit cross-legged and say Namaste.
Sylvia said that when people leave a retreat they often feel vulnerable. She thinks that’s okay. She said “If everyone in the world felt vulnerable we’d stop killing each other.”