Over the course of my 10 day meditation retreat, I used a Bloomberg magazine to record my thoughts as I was having them - from aha moments about finishing the Cross Addiction piece, to frustrations (okay meltdowns) I was having, to funnies in my head that I was dying to tell someone else.
It felt a lot like my own version of Wilson.
I decided to post most of it here in pure form, for really no other reason than I wanted to, and because it's another angle at looking at an experience that is a profound part of my path. Going back over a lot of it was actually surprising...it's funny how quickly things change, and it's odd how quickly we forget some things that seem so epic to us in the moment. I did fix grammar where necessary, and did re-write some things that felt crudely expressed so that it was more understandable, but other than that this is exactly as it came out.
DAY 0 (WEDNESDAY), 9:10PM.
It's been six hours since I got here and I've spent only one hour meditating and I already want to go home and watch Girls in my underwear and eat roasted broccoli.
DAY 1 (THURSDAY), 4:00AM.
Last night, 2 girls I made friends with and I walk into the orientation. We ask each other what we are trying to work out while we are here. One says her 20 year marriage. One says her month long marriage. They look to me and ask me the same. What are you here to fix?
I shrug, thinking nothing and everything, when it dawns on me that Peter Cigarettes texted me a few days before I left for Hawaii - after three plus months of radio silence. He got a job in LA and while I'm here, he's moving to Echo Park. He's moving less than 3 miles from my apartment. I texted Laura on the plane ride over I want nothing to do with Peter Cigarettes.
I realize as I am about to tell these two girls Nothing really! it's not that simple. The thought of him so close and back in my sphere is already suffocating me. The timing of it all suddenly doesn't feel like some major coincidence.
Why do some people come back? And more so, what could I possibly have left to learn? Wasn't the first time hard enough?
DAY 1 (THURSDAY), 4:20AM.
I haven't woken up without Immediate Coffee Fix in a while, and I refuse to, so I brought Starbuck's Via powdered coffee. I put one in my water bottle and had cold, black powdered coffee. It's actually delicious compared to the alternative, which is nothing.
I had a panicked, sick feeling as I went to bed last night. My dreams were crystal clear and there was Peter, rejecting me again. We went on a date. I made him cake. He never called again.
DAY 1 (THURSDAY), 10:05aM.
I fell asleep in meditation this morning and I fell on my neighbor. I'm certain a woman around me sharted and kept on meditating. There is a level of commitment here unlike any I have seen before.
DAY 1 (THURSDAY), 5:45PM.
The leader of the meditation retreat is a white guy in his 40s named Mike. He wears cuffed cargo pants, short-sleeved dress shirts, rimless eyeglasses, and black flip flops with thick soles. No one wants this. NO ONE wants their meditation leader to be a white dude that could pass as their accountant. We want an Asian guy in a loin cloth with no teeth who yells at us. This feels like a scam.
DAY 2 (FRIDAY), 7:20AM.
I am pretty sure this is Lost. Remember how on Lost Jacob was this total normal looking white dude? Same thing here. Our leader is as white bread as it comes. They show us the dharma lesson each night on a small TV and last night there were connectivity issues - JUST like when they showed those old videos on Lost that were all glitchy. Also, there are invisible boundaries, we are on an island, our phones don't work, and because no one is talking everyone seems brain washed. I heard a plane yesterday and part of me wanted to run out and start waving my hands and yell "We're down here! We're down here! Wait!"
DAY 2 (FRIDAY), 7:30AM.
We aren't allowed to look at each other or make eye contact. Communication of any kind is forbidden. This is amazing, for various reasons. #1, I haven't washed my hair in five days, and this morning I wet a comb to slick it back. I'm 97% sure I look like Charlize Theron in Monster. But guess what? I don't know because there are no mirrors, and know one else does, either, because they aren't allowed to look at me. #2, it's such a relief to pass people and not feel the "Should I/shouldn't I say hi?" thing I always feel. I don't have to worry that I might look like a dick if I don't, or be cornered into a five minute conversation if I do, or risk rejection if they don't smile back. You get to pretend another human being isn't there when they really are without the guilt. Isn't this the dream?
I thought it would be.
Only, with this whole not looking at one another thing comes something unexpected: a complete lack of compassion. It honestly reminds me of what a women's prison might be like, but even in prison I imagine there would be more connection than here. Everyone wears the same expressionless look, and I find myself making up the worst kind of stories about them, and wonder what stories they have come up with about me. I wonder if part of the plan is to remind us how vital community is to our survival by depriving us of it.
DAY 2 (FRIDAY), 9:05PM.
I want to hurt people. I have a burning desire to sit in the middle of the meditation tent and scream the bloodiest, loudest "FUCKKKKKK" I can muster, make it sound like I'm being skinned alive. Because that is how this feels. Like painful slow death.
DAY 3 (SATURDAY), 7:05AM.
I pulled into the drive on day #0 with a Marc Jacob's diaper bag, red lipstick and Big Apple Red dagger nails. I might be the right amount of Hippie for LA or SF or Rome, I am out of my league at this retreat. Everyone here looks like they just came from an ashram in India, like they all got the same memo that I somehow missed about head wraps, shawls, and hemp clothing. For the last few days, this has been paralyzing. I notice everything about me that is different, mainstream, clueless. My clothes and accoutrement are just the tip of the ice berg. I don't bow to the moon or even know why people do this, I don't know how to walk a labirynth or what's so special about one anyway, I don't pray before I eat or have a clue what I might say if I did besides "Thank you God for this food" which I doubt is what the food-praying women are saying, and yesterday I threw a piece of plastic in the compost bin and someone grabbed it out whilst making a grunting noise that I know was just a primal translation of "You idiot bitch."
This morning after breakfast on my walk - wearing a batman sweatshirt, cheetah leggings, and leg warmers - I realized how much I was shrinking in my own step, and further realized that I've been obsessing over the one thought I've spent the last few years murdering:
What do they think of me?
It was appalling to realize. Because I don't give a fuck about what they think of me just like I don't give a fuck what most other people think of me. I didn't come here to fit in or be part of some moon circle tribe that I wouldn't want to be part of anyway. I didn't come here to be anything other than who and what I am and SO WHAT if who and what I am doesn't fit like a piece of a puzzle? So what if I stand out? I am me. And I love me. Exactly as I am. Whether or not I know how to use coconut oil as soap.
Day 4 (SUNDAY), 7:41am.
Nothing to report really. There's something so refreshing about the consistency in the schedule. I have zero resistance to getting up and zero resistance to transitioning from one thing to another. Normally in real life life, this part hurts. Moving from one thing to another, particularly if it's from something I'm enjoying to something less enjoyable. It physically hurts and I have complete aversion to switching tasks. I'm not sure if this new lack of resistance is because there is no choice or real free will here, or because I've been meditating a fuck ton.
It's still unusually strained with all the other women; it's like a posse of Omarosas and I feel like we might as well be wearing shirts that say "Not here to make friends." Yesterday at tea, the little girl who meditates next to me was searching for the rice milk, and I presented it to her, and she smiled at me. I felt so much happiness for this moment - this brief encounter of human-ness.
I haven't been thinking of anything in particular. I decided to not search for answers to Peter Cigarettes or anything while I am here and rather just be receptive and act like a witness. My dreams have been insane and in the mornings, I remember every last little detail of them. I've thought about Geoff a lot, I miss him. I've also thought about things from childhood like the house on Fedora and all the bad things in high school like sucking lots of dick and missing class to get fucked up.
Everything I'm thinking of is amplified, and it's almost 100% forgotten bits of the past. It is strange and sometimes I find myself wondering if I am dreaming all day, or even if life is a dream.
Day 4 (SUNDAY), 8:59am.
Why have I been wearing a bra?
Day 4 (SUNDAY), 5:10pm.
Today all of these memories of the past 10 years came up. I haven't thought about the past 10 years because in part I feel like they didn't happen or perhaps I was drunk for everything important. It's been a big blank space. It started with Scott (boyfriend from 2005-2006), and moved to living with Annalee, and then moving to San Francisco, and then to all these other characters and ghosts of the past. Andy, Todd, Meegan, Paul, Genie, Alex, and on and on. There I am, working in Houston, playing Guitar Hero with Andrew, drinking IPA at the Toronado. All the buried things, surfacing, like they hadn't been properly metabolized. It feels like a horror show. I don't want to go back here.
We did a four hour meditation and learned the Vipassana technique today. The first two hours were wonderful. I was focused and I was actually starting to feel some level of comfort with what we had learned so far. The last two hours were where we moved into the actual Vipassana technique. It was a two-hour sit and we weren't allowed to leave the room the entire time. Goenka guided us through it, his voice booming. Slowly, painfully, deliberately he walked us through an inch-by-inch body of our bodies in order to notice present sensations. I made it through the first body scan, in pain and somewhat in and out of it, breathing through the whole thing and using some of my Kundalini/pranayama to make it through. But when he asked us to start over and do it all again, I broke and so did my mind.
I wanted to run away. I thought All I have to do is get up and walk out. That's it and it's over. But I didn't. I stayed.
It was almost hallucinogenic. In retrospect, it was entirely hallucinogenic. It felt like my entire life was flashing before my eyes. All those memories that I thought were forgotten or muted came flashing across my forehead like they were being projected onto a screen, as my entire body ached and every cell in my being had to work against every other cell in my being to keep me planted and not running from the tent. We kept repeating these body scans and each time it got worse. It felt like I was at a bad rave on bad drugs and too much coffee, watching my entire life pass before my eyes while someone was slowly pulling my knee caps off.
It started to speed up. The whole thing goes faster, Goenka talks faster, the slide show speeds up until it's spinning. All I can see is picture after picture after picture of my life as it was and all that has gone and it hurts so bad and I am trying to keep myself from getting up and screaming and right when I think I cannot take one more second of this, right when it seems like I just might end entirely, it stops.
And all I can think about is how right Goenka is. And all I can think about is how I just realized for maybe the first time that everything changes and it changes all the time. Everything I have will go away, is going away as I speak as I write as I think. Nothing ever stays the same. I fall forward, prostrate, head to the earth, and I sob, and I wish I could projectile vomit a scream that looks like fire, because that seems like the only thing that will aptly express what I feel.
I am a volcano, who ironically is sleeping in a tent on the side of a volcano.
Day 5, 7:50am.
I just ate a contraband banana on a toilet stall while I was going to the bathroom. This is why I'm single.
Day 5, 12:26pm.
I just had my first interview with The Mike. We are supposed to sit for 1 hour without moving (changing knee position, changing hand position, opening our eyes) three times a day at this point, and I swear I'm doing permanent damage to my knees. I can't make it more than 15 minutes without almost throwing up.
I asked him what the difference between "good pain" and "bad pain" was and he said I couldn't look at it that way and to remember that no one has ever done permanent damage to their knees in one hour. I told him that I have an extremely high threshold for pain and that this seemed to be outside that threshold and he told me that was a good thing, that if it was really that bad, and I managed to sit for an hour without moving, and were to even find peace while in that excruciating pain, to just think! of what else I could manage to get through in life despite extreme discomfort. "You are preparing yourself," is what he said. Since this is exactly what I tell my Kundalini students when I make them hold their arms up in the air for 11 minutes, I couldn't disagree. The Mike wins.
Day 5, 12:32pm.
I want knuckle tattoos.
Day 5, 5:21pm.
There was a wasp in the tent, and I found myself wishing it would attack me.
Day 6, 7:29am.
I don't know why after 23 years I am still surprised when I get my period, but I am. I always am.
Day 6, 7:35am.
Dear Heather, this morning, at breakfast, watching the sun rise over the palm and banana trees, I wished you were here so bad. Sitting next to me, drinking coffee, taking it in. For some reason my mind flashed to you with short boy hair and missing front teeth, wearing a pink velour outfit and singing The World Is A Rainbow. I think the visual was five separate memories spun into one. And then I was thinking about you and me and our life paths, and it occurred to me that I don't think I could live without you. And then I imagined your funeral because that's what happens when you have nothing else to do but think and meditate, and naturally I burst into hysterical tears, which is awkward to manage at a silent meditation retreat. I miss you. I wish you were here. I hope you know that you are everything to me and that I don't think I could go on if you went away.
DAY 6, 4:05PM.
I had a little break during the solitary sit after lunch. I think in part because my nature is to question all authority, and be suspect of all practices. I'll be honest. I hate this method of meditation. It doesn't make sense to me. It's joyless and Godless and what is the point of being free if we don't have these things? I get liberation. I do not get hours of misery to come to it. I keep trying to make it an hour without moving. But my knees hurt so bad and my legs keep falling asleep. And this part also doesn't make sense. Suffer knee pain? If I've heard it once, I've heard it 1,000 times: you can mess with the gods, but you can't mess with your knees! I started to wonder if I can make it here for the next four days, and then I got up to go to the bathroom. As I was putting on my wool slippers I remembered the teachers telling us explicitly to not walk barefoot, because of the lava rock. "I did it once and it was painful and so I never did it again," said they. I started thinking WHY is it that we can kill our knees but not our feet? The gray area and contradiction of spirituality always maddens me.
So I walked barefoot. And it hurt. But it also felt good. A kind of fuck you that only I was privy.
I sat back down to meditate and I asked God to help. I said I need something. The words from one of my favorite chants Guru Ram Das came streaming into my head and I started to chant silently and realized how much I missed Kundalini, and also how clear it is that Kundalini is my path. And then Yogi Bhajan was there, with me, and I asked him if he would help me out with this.
He said "Girl what have you gotten yourself wrapped into now?" and I explained the situation. He thought about it and the technique and Goenka and he said he gets why they are having me do these practices and that made me feel better. "I see what they are doing." He went on to remind me I'd given my word and that I would have to stay, have to keep trying. He reminded me that the ultimate practice from his point of view was to keep my promise. No more Kundalini, he said. No more chanting, or pranayam. "You must do what you have said you would do."
Yogiji told me that I could do it, and to make sure that I wasn't alone or afraid, that he would sit next to me the whole time. We spent a while figuring out where he would sit, there wasn't much room to my left and he had to contort his legs to not squash the woman next to me, so we decided that he'd sit off to the side in the walkway and face me. I also took this opportunity to tell him some things I thought about him and making people go on banana diets and other things I've learned about him. He rolled his eyes and said shut it. He was human, not God. We laughed, and when I started meditating again he was there, yelling at me.
"Keep up keep up keep up!" And I did. In the next group sit, I made it the hour without moving.
DAY 6, 5:44PM.
Today two women made eye contact with me and smiled back which automatically makes them my best friends here.
Day 6, 5:45pm.
We are allowed only two meals a day, one at 6:30am and one at 11am. At 5pm, we are offered tea and fruit and each of us is rationed 1/4 papaya, two mini-bananas, and 2 slices of orange. Today I got smart and cut that shit up into tiny bite-sized pieces, and drowned it in the rice milk they provide for the tea, along with salt, cinnamon, and lemon juice. Then I ate it like a rabid dog. Then I looked around me and saw some other women had done the same and another woman who was using her teeth to get the last fruit pulp off the papaya skin. Straight up prison.
Day 7, 7:25am.
I watched a spider spin a spider web at breakfast for about 20 minutes. It's the most fascinating thing I have seen in a very long time.
Day 7, 12:55pm.
I had another conversation with The Mike today. and even though Mike has all his teeth and wears clothes from the JC Penny instead of a hand-woven dhoti, he is very wise. I asked him a lot of questions.
"Mike, how do I not crave not craving?"
"Mike, is it possible to want things without craving them? And is wanting even okay or are we supposed to not want things at all?"
"Mike, when is trying to stop craving things just another kind of craving?"
"Mike, why am I not happy yet?"
You aren't allowed to write, or create, or make art, or read, or talk on your phone, etc. Zero escapes. I turned in my wallet, four books, my phone and my journal. I had a Bloomberg Businessweek in my bag and since I had read every little word of that gem, I decided that it would be okay to take it into my tent with me, as some sort of security blanket. It felt too weird to be without words for a week.
I also happened to have four Pilot gel pens on me, because I always have four Pilot gel pens on me.
I didn't intend to write, but then immediately with all this free space in my life and my mind came all these words, and I didn't want to lose them, so I started to take notes with those gel pens in the negative space of the magazine.
Prior to leaving for Hawaii, I had not a clue as to how to wrap the Cross Addiction piece, and I knew I would here. I knew it would make sense how to sum up something that seemed un-sum-up-able after being here at this retreat. It has been slipping out bit by bit, little insights and notes. After this talk with Mike today, it finally completely made sense to me, at least in the way that it can make sense to me today.
So, I finished the cross addiction piece in the March 14th, 2016 edition of the Bloomberg Businessweek. And it feels so so good.
Day 7, 5:34pm.
Running list of things I have learned. (Moved to yesterday's piece, click here).
Day 8, 6:08am.
I think my heart might explode from all the feels. I don't think I've felt this happy in years.
Day 8, 11:30am.
I don't remember why I felt so happy this morning, but I do not feel this way at all anymore.
Day 8, 5:49pm.
I had to stop myself from running again. Marie, the women's manager, asked me to not stretch "intensely" outside (while everyone else appeared to be stretching) and told me I was distracting. I loath being told what not to do, so I skipped the second morning meditation in protest and obsessed about it all day, and then I got over it.
What I can't get over is how much I am seeing from my past and how clearly I am seeing it. The past 10 years in vivid detail. What's specifically poignant is how much has changed and moved out of my space in the last three years, since sobriety. There is fresh pain around the things that have gone away and I can feel the space and the loss almost like I am feeling it and seeing it for the first time. It's brutal. On the other hand, I'm also seeing clearly all the bigness that has come into my life since giving up booze, to the point that it's almost suffocating me, to the point I can't breathe in all the way because it's too much.
And I get it. I get it like I never have before, on a cellular level. So much had to die so that all this other could be born. All those other dreams, all those other people, all those other things and circumstances and ways of being and connections and identities had to be murdered, so that all this space could be created. Everything had to burn, so that everything else could grow.
I've said these things, known these things, but like I said, some how today I get it. Like the understanding finally caught up to the action, finally came to life in the words.
Day 9, 7:25am.
Another woman made eye contact with me and smiled and I had to come back to my tent to hide my big creepy grin. I have not found it the least bit difficult to not talk. I have found it excruciating not to love and love freely. I want to go up to these women and take their hands and look them in the face and tell them they are so special and beautiful and that I love them.
Day 9, 7:29am.
I am so fucking over this.
Day 9, 7:30am.
Everything and everyone smells like BO. It permeates everything. Some of the clothes I own now smell exactly like poo.
Day 9, 12:35pm.
There are some things that came together for me today. I have literally been counting down to freedom. 5 more group meditations. 2 more nights before a hotel bed. I woke up this morning at 4am and meditated for 25 minutes and found myself running back to bed, to make the time go faster. I spent 30 minutes of the morning group meditation day dreaming on purpose to make the time pass.
I have thought about all the ways I could cheat my way through the next 48 hours. And then.
During the third sit of the day, Goenka talked for the first full hour and I heard this: that if I keep avoiding discomfort, I deepen my habit of running from discomfort and I feed the discomfort by giving it power. I create deeper Samskaras. BUT, if I can sit through the discomfort - equanimously, unattached to the experience and simply observing it - then I will burn through those habits of running. If I can find happiness in discomfort and boredom, then I burn through my need to run.
I thought about the extent I go to in life to avoid discomfort. From the outside, it may not look like this because I do keep stepping into my fear and out of my comfort zone. But I do work very hard to not be bored, to not feel empty, to be still, etc. I thought about how often I choose to stay in bed and read, how I cling to lattes fearing their end, how I have to play music when I do the dishes, how I have to make everything as pleasant as possible. I avoid doing my finances, taxes, I put off laundry and I take 6 books on long plane rides. I plan my life in a way to experience the least amount of what feels like discomfort to me, and often I'll reward myself to get through something unpleasant. And that's because I have never found a way to be happy or content when I'm uncomfortable.
I end up feeling consumed by discomfort when I'm in it, and I look for escape routes to plough through it or bear it.
And so I thought, What if instead of seeing discomfort as the thing to avoid, I instead looked at it as the thing to seek out? Meaning, what if instead of running from the discomfort, I stayed with it, and tried to find peace in it, to burn off that need to escape, to burn my habit of escape?
What if I looked at moments of discomfort as the most opportune times to practice being happy no matter what was happening to me? What if instead of running, I stayed and used that discomfort as my fuel? What if discomfort became my treadmill?
After all, isn't that that point of all this work? To be happy no matter what?
Day 9, 5:35pm.
It will never not make me laugh when someone farts in a meditation room.
DAY 10, 7:21AM.
It's talking day. After our 9:am meditation, we get to talk. And I can't stand it. It's literally more anticipatory than anything that has happened to me in my life. I've boldly and unapologetically made eye contact with at least four women this morning with a huge predatory grin as if to warn them I am going to explode all over you. I am not sure how it's going to go down. Like do we just start in with anyone? And what do we even say? "I noticed you liked eating the gluten-free Cheerios!" or "Girl I love those purple paisley hammer pants you've been wearing the last 9 days!"???
DAY 11, 5:15PM.
It's Sunday. I'm finally in my hotel room and I just dropped $90 at Longs Drugs on razors, lotions, make-up, and other things. There is a big white bed and after my bath I'm going to get into that big white bed and eat fried fish and watch trash TV. There is a sense of calm, a sense of serene that I haven't felt in probably my entire life. It isn't zen and it isn't relaxed and it isn't full and it isn't wise. It's something different entirely. The word Santosha keeps coming into my mind and I know that is what it is. Contentment. Not the kind I thought I would have or the kind that I wanted. Not contentment with things that I don't think I'll find contentment over in my life. I feel gross right now and I am already thinking about work and all my worldly things. But there is a depth in me that is sated and also tickled. A smooth surface somewhere within that didn't exist before, and new butterflies kissing it's surface.
I still can't bring myself to pick up the phone and talk to anyone. It feels unimaginable to do something so simple as to dial a number and say hello. Not because I don't want to talk.
I don't want life to go back to normal.