Afterthoughts On a Meditation Retreat

I’ve spent a lot of time mulling over my experiences in the week that has passed since the meditation retreat. Lucky for me, I am between jobs (new job starts on Monday!), so I had plenty of time to consider and journal and meditate more and read a bit…and think some more.

During the second day of the retreat, Saturday, I had an unexpected experience: I felt so frustrated, almost mad, that there were so many people there, meditating. I wasn’t annoyed with meditating so long, per say, or that it wasn’t going a certain way. Honestly, my only expectation for myself was to just show up and sit (or walk, as I discovered) and meditate for the day.

At one point during the morning meditation, I looked up and thought something along the lines of “there are 40 goddamn people paying to be in this room to just sit here and do nothing” – annoyance that we weren’t doing more, that we were spending our time (and money!) not doing anything. I couldn’t pinpoint my irritation at the time, and expressed it pretty badly to the meditation teacher I had a one-on-one with, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that there needed to be a larger, greater, more helpful (to the world) purpose to meditating for an entire weekend than just “I want to feel less stressed” or whatever.

I talked to another attendee on Sunday, who had more experience both with meditation retreats and Shambhala specifically, and again tried to express this feeling that we all needed to be doing something (and mostly failing), and he mentioned a few Buddhist practices that are a bit more outward focused (tonglen, for example). Helpful, but I was still unsatisfied.

Don’t get me wrong – I felt great. Sitting for hours on end (literally…) on my cushion was a new experience, no doubt, and I certainly didn’t have any epiphanies. But once I got off the cushion, I felt the most relaxed and calm I have felt in a long time. The group of people there, by and large, were exceptionally kind, friendly, and welcoming – people were genuinely happy to see you and to be there.

Then, during the last talk on Sunday – nearly the last thing that the teacher said – my frustration finally crystallized. The teacher mentioned, almost offhandedly, that sometimes people tell him that the time he spends meditating (which adds up to much more than a weekend!) is selfish, which he didn’t understand. He said that it was like someone said “My leg is broken and I think I need a cast.” and someone replying, “welllll, it’s all about you, isn’t it!”

I laughed, then I had an “oh shit!” moment; somehow I spent the whole weekend feeling guilty or at least unsettled dedicating that much time on myself. Sure, meditation can do more and help people – but my irritation was really because I felt so uncomfortable devoting that much time to something just for myself, with no tangible benefit to anyone else. I guess there’s “I’m going to take a 45 minutes bath” self-care (which I am okay at doing), and then there’s “I’m going to devote my entire weekend to sitting in silence” self-care (which I guess I struggle with).


Since the retreat, I’ve meditated more and continued to feel pretty calm (though maybe not as calm!). I’ve also noticed that, as I meditate, I feel much more open to things – people, experiences, everything. Rather than holding things (expectations, interactions, etc.) tightly, like I tend to do, I am able to be more relaxed. Basically: people piss me off less. Traffic doesn’t make me as angry. I feel more patient.

I want this to be a real habit and practice in my life. To that end, I finally joined Mayu Sanctuary, which is a local co-op that allows drop in meditation. I also listened to several podcast episodes about meditation and Buddhist philosophy on the drive to and from Grand Junction (a story for another day!) and am re-inspired to finish a few of the books I own.

I am planning on attending Shambhala Level II, as well as continuing to meditate daily for at least 20 minutes. Its been relatively easy find time to meditate this week, but I definitely want to continue to practice as I start my new job; I’ve actually even considered getting up early to give me time to meditate before work, so…that’s progress.

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