⦿ One is technically at the 10-day retreat for 12 days: First day is a check-in + orientation, then 10 full days, then a morning check-out. I missed the check-in day. The first of my three flights was delayed, causing me to land in Fresno at 8:30pm—eight hours later than my original destination and a bit too late for my rideshare. I grabbed a hotel and caught a Lyft to the center in the early a.m. the next day (Day 1), where I was greeted by a very friendly Mike who gave me a quick rundown, got me a couple bites to eat, and showed me to my room. Mike also collected a part of my identity, an until-death-do-us-part companion who, wake or sleep, I am hardly ever without: my phone.
⦿ Before struggle and “Can I really do this?” set in, my first couple hours at the center were euphoric, the closest I naturally come to bliss without chemicals or sex. I had no cell phone! Sweet Jesus the consciousness freed up from that alone was wonderful. And the silence! I was at a retreat with ~60 other men in close proximity and I didn’t have to squander a drop of energy in the awkwardness of making intelligible noises from my mouth while striving, and only occasionally succeeding, to avoid being an idiot. And the grounds, so beautiful! My being was a living smile of contentedness and joy. I was concerned not that ten days of silence would be too much, but that it wouldn’t be enough.
Who would expect such joy to persist as a steady state?
⦿ The Dhamma Hall. This is where roughly 120 people gather to meditate for the group sits. A cavernous beautiful interior with a long, carpeted floor space, it is insulated well from exterior sound. Each meditator is assigned a spot in the neatly arranged grid of zabutons (rectangular floor pads) and zafus (buckwheat filled cushions) for the duration of the course.
Men and women are segregated for the 10 days. There is no interaction and definitely no physical contact permitted. The only time they share any amount of space is in this Dhamma Hall—women on one side, men on the other.
In the following schedule, the Dhamma Hall is where we meet each of the three times it says “Group meditation in the hall” (8:00–9:00 am, 2:30–3:30pm, & 6:00–7:00pm), though we are often in there longer, particularly for the evening sessions where we arrive at 6pm and don’t leave until 9pm.
⦿ Group sits have begun. Holy shit. One long, confined, slow-ticking hour. This is having the feel of a marathon—a race so long that the end can neither be seen nor reached more quickly by an (ultimately unsustainable) increase in speed. Instead, the realization grows that one is in it for the long haul; and just like a marathon or reading this journal, it becomes a situation of endurance: of placing one foot in front of the other with a focus not on the destination, but the present experience.
And in the spirit of the marathon, in those beginning days’ sessions the men stream silently out of the Dhamma Hall looking like they’ve run a long race as they lean forward, hands on knees, and find various ways to contort their bodies in stretches.
⦿ The day is so silent; the schedule so empty save for meditation; the social interaction and stimulating/distracting activity for the mind so non-existent—this starves the mind of its usual diet.
I am experiencing agitation. I am coming up against the same hard walls and twisted knots of energy within that might as well be boulders in their immovability. I’ve been here before, internally; I’ve tried to relax these knots, to move or circumvent these boulders. It never works. In this day’s meditations I begin to fluctuate between a sense of progress/traction/hope and futility bordering on despair.
⦿ Me: A core emptiness, numbness, dissatisfaction, brokenness, non-wholeness, aridity, cut-off’ness, isolation, loss of community, outside of warmth, non-presence—a knot of pain. These are the various facets of that which I lump under the umbrella term “pain,” or “existential pain,” on the rare occurrence I attempt to communicate this longstanding situation with regard to my existence to another person.
It could be expounded on for pages but basically summarized in the above words. I am facing it here. Again. This is the same pain I try to medicate (with weekend alcohol and occasional, time-limited bouts with nicotine). The same pain I try to solve again and again and again. I don’t know if it was with me in childhood, perhaps unconsciously, but it’s definitely been loud and present during the past ~24 years of adulthood in the more consciously lived portion of my journey.
⦿ Somehow, Trisha and I got a bad batch of laundry detergent from Costco that leaves a particular brand of funk, not unlike stinky feet. To my (non) delight, I discovered that the sheets I brought with me for my dorm room were washed with this detergent. I need to keep the window open to my room. I learn to fragrance the room with hot tea in my thermos.