In the month since I returned from India, I’ve been immersed in teachings about the mechanics of the body in three different workshops about Anatomy. All those names of muscles, images of neural pathways and discussions about blood circulation have added an interesting element to the realization I came to during the meditation immersion I did in India: I am incredibly attached to the ways I’ve set up to feel comfortable and foster health in my physical body.
Here’s what happened. I’m in this incredibly privileged setting where everything from meals to spiritual guidance to beautiful natural surroundings are provided. Pretty much all I do is meditate, contemplate, breathe, eat. My gut is totally bloated because the kale I usually eat has been replaced by rice and potatoes, every meal, day and night. And I am worrying about getting enough exercise inside the small perimeter of the facility. Oh yes, and wouldn’t I be functioning better if I got more sleep instead of getting up so early to meditate?
While settling into the gifts of silence and contemplation, I began noticing my attachment to the criteria I’ve become habituated to expect for comfort in my body.
By the way, these were the same themes that I encountered in my first long meditation retreat in 1985, at the age of 28. At that time I did not have the capacity to see how attachment was conditioning me. I was aware I was experiencing distress but I had no distance from it. I wanted healthy food, I wanted enough sleep, I wanted to walk and I also wanted to be free.
Not that criteria are bad–liking to move my body everyday is as good as sleep and kale are. It’s the attachment that I began to see as the real issue now, 31 years later. I’m fortunate to still have full functioning of my physical body but what if a tree limb falls on me during a windstorm and I’m injured? What if I get cancer? What happens to my insistence on the perfect balance of sleep, exercise and leafy vegetables then?
Looked at this way, I see how much I try to have life meet me where I want to be met, on my terms, with just the right amount of this and that at all times. With this realization, can I back off a bit on the dependence and insistence to have my way? Can I take another breath and meet life as it presents itself in this moment, on its terms?
Now, at home–still keeping to my daily practice and my beloved 9pm-9am quiet hours–I can touch base with the foundation of clarity I reached during my many weeks in India. That’s the beauty of a retreat or immersion: it sets up a reservoir that can be tapped into here and there through the bits of practice we can bite off for ourselves once back in our day-to-day lives. I’m back to eating lots of deep-green yummy fibery greens but I do it now with an awareness that I might not be able to eat kale whenever I want to, all my life. I take notice, shift and receive life as it is. I’m finding great freedom in this.