May 9, 2012 § Leave a comment
Three years ago, I participated in a 5-day silent meditation retreat in Barre Michigan at the Insight Meditation Society, founded by Sharon Salzberg, a veritable rockstar of Western Buddhism.
I approached the retreat with diligence and focus, diving into my silence with confidence. Silence is something I have always felt quite comfortable with, as a writer, relatively solitary person, and an only child, I can often slip into silence like a pair of old slippers. Three years ago my life wasn’t exactly settled by any stretch of the imagination, and circumstances were about to get more complicated over the next 8 months as I tried to finish my first feature documentary film and then, eventually, tried to pull myself back onto my feet after the sad ending of a pivotal relationship. Throughout it all, as these kinds of situations often do, I was forced to look deeply inside to make some sense out of not just the situation I had found myself in, but to ask larger questions about my life in general: Who am I really? What are my true likes, interests, and dreams? Why am I here? What might bring me real and lasting happiness and something even more illusive — a sense of purpose?
At the meditation retreat, as I cozied up with silence, I became ever more aware of the barrage of thoughts that stormed inside me throughout the day. They were primarily thoughts of anger, evoking feelings of disempowerment. I was psychically unsettled and I knew it. My search to lead myself out of that storm had begun; I knew there had to be a better way to live and that happiness should be possible for me. I knew I had a long road ahead of me but that for whatever reason, it was a road that in my life would turn out to be a necessity. As if armouring myself against the thoughts themselves, I braced myself in each moment with the utmost presence for what might arise. “What’s next?” I asked of my mind, a mind that had become a kind of repetative sound torture. “What’s next?” And then, before the question had even been asked, more thoughts arose and assaulted the quiet.
“Ahhh, so that’s what you think,” I said back to myself. “Ok, mind, I hear you. What’s next?”
Another diatribe arose in my thoughts, a perfect tantrum: “So and so shouldn’t have done that! Don’t you know, that wasn’t right, that shouldn’t have happened…”
“Ok mind, I hear you,” I thought back, “What’s next?”
And so the retreat unfolded day after day. It was an interesting exercise and one that brought me some distance between my thoughts and reality and allowed me to get a little closer to the present moment (a moment that I must add was quite lovely in Barre Michigan — the landscaped gardens were beautiful and the food was sublime).
After three years of working to untie all those thoughts that had made themselves known to me, I find myself today asking the same question — “What’s next?” — but for an entirely different reason.
I feel happy, secure, settled, and more in control of my life than I have probably ever felt. I sleep well, I like my friends, I bounce back from drama that used to keep me preoccupied for days. I have my belongings in one place, I have replaced many of the things that at one point I felt I had lost: a sense of home, community, important belongings, including the dearest remnants of my past, and perhapss most important of all, a restored felt integrity.
I continue to ponder those important questions I had started to ask of myself in earnest three years ago, questions that are never fully answered as life shifts and tilts with the circumstances we encounter. However, feeling good, feeling relatively settled, feeling, as my granmother would say “knit back together”, I can’t help but ask of myself “What’s next?” and wait for some kind of answer. These days I actually find I’m looking forward to the response. I want to know how to act from the relative peace I find myself in, I want to know what to create from this place, I want to know what is next for me and what I am here to do when the storm has passed.