In my 20s, I had friends who were attending meditation retreats in isolated places all over the West Coast of the U.S. They begged me to go with them.
I’d say. Hell to the no. I can’t sit still in silence, even for a minute.
But when I was 35, a Buddhist teacher encouraged me to come to one of his four-day silent retreats on Mount Baldy in San Bernardino. After so many years of resisting, I wanted to prove to myself I could do it, even though I was terrified to go.
It seemed impossible when I first started. And it took two days before I could settle in and relax my fear.
About 25 of us would sit in a zendo, on black cushions on top of wood benches, with our backs against the walls (thank god, otherwise my back would have been killing me). We’d sit there for four three-hour sits a day, meditate for 45 minutes, walk for 20, and then repeat again.
We weren’t allowed to make phone calls, use the Internet, or read anything other than Buddhist books. The bathrooms were outhouses and the showers sprayed cold water.
When I finally realized there was nothing else I could do but make the most of it, my resistance and fighting slowly dropped away.
I learned that if I didn’t move and allowed whatever minor or major pesky interference to pass, I could reach the blissful space of joy and contentment friends had told me about. When I caught myself drifting away from the present moment, all I needed to say to myself was, Oops! There I went! No problem. I’m just going to go back.
Finding myself falling off focus, I gently, kindly, lovingly, course corrected.
I discovered peace in the yellow pine forest: the highest point of Los Angeles with a steep south face;, snow-capped on a clear, bright day. I surrendered. I surrendered to beauty.
One night, while walking back to my tiny, one-person cabin I stared at the moonlit trees lining the road.
There was a moment—a short moment, but a moment nevertheless—where I thought to myself, I could live here forever. I need nothing else but to be here. Right now. Where I am.
But soon I found myself craving a Pinkberry with dark chocolate chips, blueberries, and mochi, and immediately felt guilty.
Back inside the cabin, I wrote a list in my journal of all the things I missed:
The white, Egyptian-cotton sheets on my king-sized bed; lavender-scented, candlelit baths; cuddling with my beloved; chatty conversations with my best friends; dancing to loud club music in my living room; soft, scrambled eggs…
It was then that I realized the ordinary really was extraordinary.
I came to appreciate the small things in my life that made me happy. I didn’t need all that searching to make me feel alive. I was already living.
After that first silent retreat, I continued to go back up the mountain over the course of the next seven years.
What ordinary things are extraordinary in your life?
Which of those things might you do more often to invoke feelings of joy and contentment?
Wishing you a life full of enlightenment!