I recently went to a 10 day silent meditation retreat on the big island of Hawaii. I've put together three pieces about it, because it has been one of the more profound experiences on my path. The first is Out of Office, which explains the schedule and why I wanted to do it in the first place. The second is a podcast interview I did with Laura, Holly Doesn't Talk For 10 Days, which is the most in-depth piece - because talking about something is at times much more effective than writing about it. The third is this piece here, 40 Things I Learned From 10 Days of Silence + 105 Hours of Meditation, a list 40 things I learned that was kept as a running list during the duration of the retreat, plus a little retrospective about it I wrote a few days ago.
On Sunday, the day after the retreat ended, I got into a cab with one of the other participants to go pick up our rental cars. He asked me what I thought about it all, what had happened for me these past ten days, and all I could do was stare blankly out the window and say I didn't know yet. In that moment, it didn't really feel like anything had happened. At least not in the way that I had expected it to. I didn't feel how I wanted to feel and what I wanted to say to him was I am so disappointed in myself.
I was happier than I ever remember being in my life, there was a light in me that I had forgotten about and it was so big in that moment that it was almost burning itself out of my chest. But there was a depth that was supposed to be there that I couldn't find, and I was too excited about the prospect of shaving my legs and the Starbucks I was about to imbibe for someone who had just been an ascetic for 240 hours.
Hours later, I found myself on a dance floor. I was in my bathing suit and shorts, there were naked people and free people and happy people all around me and a DJ wearing a shirt that said Brooklyn spinning the most delicious music I could imagine. And I was free. I didn't care how bad of a dancer I was, I didn't care if I was sticking my ass out too much or that my top kept flying up or that I didn't know what to do with my hands. I was free and moving and in a jungle and on a beach and I had just done something that was bigger than I could understand. I don't think I'll forget that moment for as long as I live, because in that moment my life made perfect sense to me. I can see it from here, in slow motion, in an out of body fashion, from above. There is Holly, and she's alive.
Since that moment, what happened during those ten days has only started to unfold. I can see on some level what was gained, what was learned, but it's still not to the point where I can write intelligently on it. I think these are the kinds of things that we figure out later, in retrospect, when we realize in some stolen moment we aren't playing as small as we used to, we aren't using the same words we once did, we have grown up some, we aren't that same person we were back when.
There was one very big aha moment for me, that came on the 10th day, when we started to talk again. Someone asked me why I had come and instead of explaining cross addiction or saying I had always wanted to do this or quoting Pema, I said "Because I wasn't happy." And I realized that I wasn't happy only as I was saying this. I kept going on, explaining that a few years ago I had everything I thought would make me happy, that should make me happy, and I was so miserable I was drinking myself to death. And now here I was, sober, with all these other things I set out to achieve. doing what I want to be doing, living where I want to be living, in that new sober life I aimed to have. I went on - explaining from some realm of me that is far more advanced than I am - that I suppose it doesn't matter what it is, so long as we think we need to have things to be happy, we never will be. If we don't learn to be okay no matter what we have or don't have, no matter what our circumstance is, it will always be elusive. We will always feel incomplete.
I realized IN THAT MOMENT that yet again I have that shiny package I thought would bring me grace, and all it's done is reflect back to me that I don't need anything that lives outside my skin to have that grace. I just need grace, pure and simple. Maybe I knew this before that moment, but for some reason it didn't make sense until right then as the words came out of my mouth.
That was the biggest lesson, I think, but then again how is one to ever decide what the most important lesson is? I could probably say that about everything I learned. And still here from this vantage point, I don't really think I've learned anything. It's still too soon, there are still too many lessons to absorb, too much happening all at once to metabolize. I have no real wisdom that is package-able, neat, tidy, complete. I have a mess of thoughts.
But I want to write about it now, today, as it's unfolding, while I can still smell it, hear it, feel it. So that is what this is entry is. It's not meant to teach or supply anything. It's just a dear diary moment, from here, where I'm at.
40 Things I Learned From 10 Days Of Silence + 105 Hours Of Meditation.
- I don't need coffee as much as I think I do.
- I need people a lot more than I think I do.
- I can do terribly hard things.
- Meditation works. I can control my mind and thoughts better than I could a few weeks ago.
- I need nature.
- I love being dirty and I love being clean.
- I love getting dirty so I can get clean.
- Everything changes every second of the day. I can never recreate or recapture anything as it was.
- I love people very much. Like in a way that breaks my heart.
- I need yoga every day and I think I will always need yoga every day.
- Kundalini is my path. It's the way I understand my God the most.
- If I can meditate for 100 hours in one week I can mediate at least 10 minutes every day.
- I don't need food as much as I think.
- I can be equanimous - and almost happy - while I'm an extreme amount of pain.
- Craving is not the same as wanting, and craving enlightenment or liberty is the same as running the other direction from it.
- I love structure. I THRIVE in routine.
- I can get into the shower without having coffee first.
- I can meditate without having coffee first.
- Cold showers are amazing but only after they are over.
- I am brave as fucking fuck and I am not scared of what comes next. Bring it, whatever it is, and I'll do it.
- I want knuckle tattoos and I don't care if I end up regretting them.
- I am getting botox and I don't care about paralyzing my third eye.
- I want to chop my hair off and wear it curly so I don't have to waste my time getting ready in the morning. I also want to bleach it strawberry blonde because life is too short to not try new hairstyles.
- I need to have more sex.
- Small tents are terrible places to spend time.
- I can disappear from social media and the world in general and not cease to exist or matter. I still exist in this quiet removed place.
- I need to do this retreat at least once a year.
- I left a lot of people behind when I got sober. More than I realize.
- I left a lot of me behind when I got sober. More than I realize.
- All I have to do is remember to stay. To stay with myself, to stay with the pain, to stay in the moment. Stay. That's it. That's the practice.
- I cannot do permanent knee damage in one hour.
- Being bored isn't the end of the world.
- I am capable of an extreme amount of love, more than I previously thought.
- I do not need to Google everything.
- Holding on hurts more than letting go.
- Being without my phone, email, and social media for an extended period of time is bliss.
- What it means to burn.
- The difference between knowing through facts and knowing through experience.
- Escape always prolongs the problem. You have to be with it and observe it to actually weaken the root cause of discomfort.
- I love who I am and I love my sweet little life.