Fear: False Evidence Appearing Real. Sometimes, however, that fear shows up as reality. That’s what happened in my world on the seventh morning.
We were in our first Sitting of Strong Determination for the day. I was on the wooden stool, my feet tucked behind my cushion. I was grateful for this position because, although I still experienced some discomfort, I was able to maintain for the whole hour and not shift. The girl who sat to my left had done the same thing this day. All of a sudden, I heard this thud. I looked down and saw that my neighbor had fallen off of her stool and landed head down on my cushion! Holy Shit. Although it did not happen to me, my fear had been realized. I had experienced moments throughout the days of feeling like I might fall forward. I would almost doze off in a sense and do that head nod thing; you know what I’m talking about. But, I assured myself that since no one else had fallen, and that those who were using the stools were older students, no harm would come. But there it was.
Looking down at her I saw that she did not move right away. She gave two little twitches and as I placed my hand on her back, she let out a soft, sweet little moan. Was she smiling?
At that moment one of the student managers came over to help her up and out of the hall. What had happened? I wondered. I would later learn that, after a near death experience she once had while young, she is now given to moments of being lifted “into the light” as she calls it; a place of sweet peace that she just wants to reside in. Apparently, in an instant, that is what happened to her. All I knew at the time was that she had passed out and fallen straight forward, my fear.
I looked to my right and noticed that there was nothing soft to catch me if I fell since I was sitting on the end of the row. Damn it.
An extra layer of worry to work through. I struggled for the rest of that hour with the logistics of what had happened and how I would proceed moving forward. I did not want to get too comfortable in this position and fall off. There was no one sitting to my right, no cushion to soften my fall, no safety net, only cement. It was an in-my-face reminder to “stay alert,” a regular instruction anyway.
For the previous two and a half days, I had been relying on the stool for my hour sittings of strong determination. Even though I still experienced aches in my body and a sore bottom from the wooden seat, it provided the most ease. I mostly felt safe; except for that fear of falling, which is actually a big fear in my life, in many ways. I would need to navigate this.
For the rest of that morning, I would either sit in a version of Sukhasana with my legs crossed, or Virasana on pillows, much safer. I could not sustain either of those positions for long, but I also could not chance falling off the stool. I decided that I would try my next Sitting of Strong Determination in Sukhasana, with my legs crossed up tight.
As I walked into the room I was met with an intense bout of anxiety. Oh no, I was going to be sitting for one full hour, without moving, in a posture that had wreaked havoc on me days earlier. But I kept moving forward with a calmness that resided underneath the feelings of anxiety I was experiencing. I sat down, assumed my position, and did not move for the whole hour. Not only that, but I meditated. I focused, I remained calm. I did it. The evening sitting would be the same. I had two truly successful hours, to my surprise. A gentle reminder that I am stronger than I think. It was during this time too that the ending bell began to sound much sooner.
In the discourse that evening, Goenka informed us that the next two days were our last full days of work, for the 10th day, our silence would be lifted. He encouraged us to work very hard, maintaining the work of the meditation, the focus on breath and sensation, throughout the whole day, even and especially on our breaks.
Day 8 began with a new determination. Because I only had two real days left, I wanted to make the most of them. I still napped after breakfast, but only rested after lunch; and I would take slow, methodical walks during the breaks. I exerted even greater effort to keep my eyes averted and not make contact with others. That was really difficult, but it was a recommendation that I wanted to follow more closely. I would put my feet in the grass and face to the sun to gather as much nourishment and grounding from mother earth as I could get. I put yoga asana aside.
I would continue to practice sitting with my legs crossed because I saw great value in working through whatever was coming up during those times. However, that position did tend to compress my lower legs in a way that was more difficult for me to feel the flow of energy. Because of that, I would take turns sitting on the stool, facing my new-found fear, to allow my legs to release down into a more aligned position. I worked to remain alert, and trusted that I would be fine. This is how I chose to sit for our first hour of strong determination on the eighth day.
I had been noticing some blind or dormant space on my right side. I wanted to let the energy flow up and down and see what was there. I began with full sweeping motions from head to foot. The energy on the left side was moving much more quickly than on the right. I found myself getting frustrated with the right side for not keeping up. Patience. I decided to do them both separately. I took my awareness down the left side of my body first, and then back up. Seemed very clear. The pain that had been there was now gone.
I then took my attention to the right side. Moving very slowly like molasses, I felt confirmation that there was blind space from the front and back of my torso just beneath my clavicle and shoulder girdle, all the way down through my right hip. Interesting. Observe. Then I went from top to bottom again, both sides, and an amazing thing happened. The whole left side of my body immediately lit up. My side felt strong and alive, although a bit numb at the same time. It was the weirdest thing. My right side felt dead in a sense, though completely alive as we know it. I had thoughts of how the right side is the feminine side, and how she’s had trouble for a few years now. The left is the masculine side and he has felt active, though not without his own issues. But here I was with this sweet little right feminine side of me, who had no life in her, and I felt so much sadness and compassion. I have been aware that something was missing, this was just greater confirmation. (edit: Three months after writing this I realized that I had been viewing the right side of my body as the feminine due to the fact that the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body. This realization just flipped a whole lot of things for me. I knew it didn’t make sense in my life that the feminine was my dormant energy. She is alive and well. This changes everything.)
I was reminded of a moment I had while in Costa Rica. During a kind of trying time, I found myself in a different yoga practice space. I was grateful for it because it was the first time in months that I had an actual wall to play with for inversions. I was dying to hold in a handstand for a bit and just get some fresh perspective. So I did. When I came down and stood up, my eyes were closed. In the darkness I had this vision of the yin yang symbol. The left of it was fiery and bright, looking literally like flames. The right side was dark, and cold. The image lasted for quite a while until it morphed and faded. I was struck deeply by it. I had been aware of the imbalance, but what did it mean? What does it mean? What do I do about it?
On my next meditation, I revisited this revelation. Goenka had suggested at some time pouring an imaginary bucket of water down through the top of the head. I tried this just to see what would happen. In the darkness behind my closed eyes, I saw a pitcher over the top of my head. Clear, bright water, as if the sun were shining lightly on it poured down through my being. As it went into my body, I saw my whole head clearly. The water poured down and into my shoulders, and continued down through the left side of my body, as if it were cascading over some rocky space, a rough blackness on the right side. I could see it clearly, but have a hard time describing it. It was uneven surface with some holes in it like the side of a mountain, or corroded building. What was it? Decay… It covered the whole right side and into and around the area of my stomach and belly, and then down over my pelvis and right hip, into the top of my thigh.
I was taken aback. Not only was I surprised that I had seen that, but, it made so much sense. I had been feeling that blind spot, I just didn’t know how far it extended. My heart was sad at the sight, and grateful for it all at the same time. I wondered what had happened. How had this occurred? My softer side had definitely taken a hit in recent years, but was that it? Then an image of me writing and scribbling away furiously popped into my head. Of course! I was carrying, or harboring maybe, all of those emotions and feelings that were being recorded by my hand. And there were a lot of them. I saw how that had corroded some of my insides. Did that mean that my writing was bad for me? No. I don’t think so. But now I know how important it is to be mindful about holding onto all of that. Over the next day or so, I would keep moving through the area, checking for signs of life, and I would pour the water to see if I could wash away any debris. It is not all gone, but it is moving. Do I think I have uncovered the whole story? No. I don’t. But its a start.
The next morning I had a very hard time waking up. I had slept hard with almost no dreams. I was experiencing this arc through the 10 days, where somewhere in the middle I had grown to great heights and crazy openings, to what began to feel like a downhill roll into…. I don’t know, an abyss? No, my former reality. I felt like I was losing it, the experience, fizzling out, coming down from a high. I guess in a sense I was. All things have their beginnings and endings, ups and downs.
That morning, I did not want to go meditate. I wanted to sleep. Bad. But I went. It was the last full day of silence, and as I have said, I wanted to make the most of it. Nothing extraordinary occurred on this day that I remember other than a lot of concentration and focus, and a lot frustration. By the time I got to bed, I fell asleep fast and hard. By morning of the tenth day, I resisted. It was the last day and soon our silence would be over. Because my eyes were already open, I went. Discipline. Do it.
Discipline. I have been warring with myself over this issue in my life for some time. I feel I don’t often have it. Others have told me how I am quite disciplined, maybe even too much. Here during this meditation, I was battling. Where did the discipline end, and dogma begin? I did not want to exchange one set of rules and regulations for another. How long did I “have to” stay? How long DO I have to stay, in relationships, jobs, on this cushion? There is so much growth that happens in the staying, in the pushing through. When do we walk away, and see the value in that as well?
Even in this writing right now, I see it. It’s hard for me sit still when the inspiration isn’t flowing. But if I walk away every time I’m not “feeling it,” I won’t finish. So I push and persevere, keep going. However, there is another side. The walking away allows perspective, rest, even movement.
So, after about 40 minutes in the meditation hall on the tenth day, I opted to honor what I felt I needed most in that moment. I left and went back to my room. I sat on the floor and leaned up against the side of my bed. I didn’t want to give in to sleep, but I wanted to be more comfortable. Finally, the part of my brain that was reasoning how important sleep was, won out. I crawled into my bed and slept hard until breakfast. When I awoke again, I felt strange. Not completely rested, and like I had lost the meditation. I was a bit disappointed in myself, and yet, I knew I had done what was right for me. I napped once again after breakfast and upon awakening for the second time, all was good. I was where I needed to be.
Our group meditation for the morning held an extra hour that was dedicated to Metta, loving kindness. I cried and cried. It truly was a beautiful way to seal our hard work, and it would close each session from here on out. In this moment of this writing I realize that my going back to bed was its own loving kindness, a sweet surrender for myself. I sat in the meditation hall for several moments after the bell allowing people to leave ahead of me. Tears flowed down my face of gratitude and love.
Once outside, our time of noble silence was up. I not only had the opportunity to hear voices and exchange names, but we were able to look one another truly in the eyes and see each other for the first time. That was a remarkable revelation to me. When we go about our day with head down, we can see clothing and shoes. We can see facial features and hair. It’s easy to make judgments and assumptions about who people are. But truly meeting these women for the first time, looking into their eyes, hearing their accents, and learning from where they come, a whole new world opened. We spent the whole day talking now that we were free to do so, sharing experiences, life lessons, and forging new bonds.
The 11th morning held our final meditation and discourse. Mr. Goenka spoke about how to move forward in the world with these new tools and what to expect upon returning to life as we left it. We may have felt a sense of change within us, but the world outside remained the same. Would we maintain our practice? Only time would tell.
He spoke of how important it was to not go about exchanging one dogma for another. Our religion, our rites and rituals were ours. The Buddha never intended to have a sect. He only wanted to teach and offer liberation from suffering due to the habit patterns of our minds. “Being ignorant of the inner reality, we never understood that the cause of suffering lies within, in our own blind reactions toward pleasant and unpleasant sensations.” (Goenka)
I was grateful to hear this. I was not interested in conversion to a religion. I was not interested in hopping on a wagon and leaving behind my current practices. I love my devotion to That Which Is, and that it is of my own understanding. I am also grateful to this practice that helps me reach another layer of That Which I Am.
During the toughest parts of our practice, when we were pushing through our limits, Mr. Goenka spoke of perseverance and patience. He said the work that we were doing was ours alone to go through. There would be no god coming to save us. Whoo. That sounds harsh. But I get it. The work required our own dedication and determination. I have known this to be true in my life. Do I believe the God of our understanding saves? Absolutely. Do I believe there are times when we must walk the path alone and work out our own salvation? Absolutely.
In many moments throughout this retreat, I could have prayed to God to let the hour be up. I mean, I did in fact, pray. But I knew the truth. I could pray and pray and sure enough eventually be delivered from my misery; time would be up. But what would I have actually accomplished? Nothing, except the exit. I give thanks to the greater God of my own understanding to have coordinated with me to usher me to the moment, to provide me with the skills and tools to proceed. I give thanks to have been given a heart for the job. And, I give thanks that although I may have felt alone, I knew I never was. But the path was mine to walk. These words, mine to write.
In the words of an ancient proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
Thank you for listening.