This past week I went on a 4-day silent meditation retreat. It was the hardest retreat I have ever been on. I was challenged on every level – mental, spiritual, physical, and emotional. After the first full day, I wanted to leave. My suitcase was packed and I was planning to leave early in the morning.
Then I stopped. I realized that I always run from things when the “going gets tough.” I decided to stay for the whole weekend. I had several friends at the retreat and I wanted to fulfill the commitment. I instilled in my mind a resolve and stayed.
This retreat was like a meditation boot camp. We were on a strict schedule; which wasn’t my plan going into the retreat. I was looking forward to some meditation and a lot of relaxation. Instead, I had to wake up every morning at 5:00 and be sitting on my meditation cushion at 5:30. The days repeated with the same schedule: chanting, group meditations, walking meditations, yoga class, and teachings of the Buddha. I led the yoga classes.
This retreat reminded me of a sweat lodge experience I had about 18 years ago. I was invited to an Native American sweat lodge. It was an honor to have that experience. A good friend of mine had connections with a Native American tribe. Before the sweat, my friend educated me about the sweat lodge rituals. I had to prepare my body by fasting one day before the sweat. I also made tobacco prayer bags to hang in the sweat lodge. I remember creating the tiny bags and dedicating each one to my family members and friends. Before the sweat began, I gave the Native American elder a bag of tobacco as a gift.
The sweat lodge experience and mediation retreat were similar because of the challenge. Each experience challenged my whole being. It was difficult to stay and not flee. In the sweat lodge experience, I had to connect with my breath – just like sitting in meditation. The thick, hot, moist air forced me to go inward and focus on my breath. Also, in each experience I had to overcome the obstacle of fear. In the sweat lodge, I feared dying because I could hardly breathe. I remember laying down in a fetal position and putting my face to dirt floor so I could breathe better. I prayed to God that I would survive. The Native American elder helped me to stay connected with my inner journey as she chanted with the drum. In the mediation retreat, I feared losing my mind or fainting from sitting too long. The second morning of the retreat I sat in a group meditation for about two hours. As I sat, tears rolled down my cheeks. I couldn’t help but cry. My hips and legs hurt, my mind was swimming, and I was grieving the loss of my dad (he has Alzheimer’s disease).
After wiping my tears, I acknowledged my emotions and refocused on my breath. After this moment, I felt better. I changed the position of my legs and I sat with clarity and focus. My body felt lighter and my mind tranquil. I had overcome one of my toughest challenges during the weekend.
I also survived the sweat lodge experience. Each of these experiences created a new me – I was reborn. The sweat lodge is round, wet, and warm like a mother’s womb. The large, round rocks that baked all day in the fire pit warmed the lodge. Water was poured onto the rocks and my body sweat like it was raining. The heat scorched my body and my heart beat along with the drum. I laid in a fetal position trusting God and the Universe. Several hours later, the flap lifted and fresh air rushed in. I stepped out of the sweat lodge wet and slimy like a newborn. The cool, fresh air refreshed my body, mind and spirit. I felt a sense of accomplishment and gratitude filled my heart.
I was reborn after the meditation retreat too. I am a different person because of the meditation challenge. This challenge created determination and resilience inside me. Now I must go forward and remember keep my light shining bright…because I am radiant and strong.
“Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.” — Rainer Maria Rilke