“You Picked a Hell of a Week for Your Retreat”

My friend Brett’s text message to me this morning sums it up…


“You picked a hell of a week for your retreat.”


Boy, ignorance was bliss.


Yesterday afternoon, I re-emerged out of a five-day silent meditation retreat. Unlike other retreats I’ve attended, this one, like so many other pandemic-era experiences, arrived in the comfort of my own home through Zoom.


I hid my phone, planner, and the books I’m reading. I can’t believe it, but I didn’t feel an ounce of temptation to open my email or look at Facebook, even though my computer sat in front of me each day. I’ve learned through the years that there aren’t any “Compassion It” emergencies, and that life goes on whether I’m connected or not.


By Wednesday, I had a solid four days of cultivating mindfulness under my belt and felt full of love and peace. My heart expanded with each meditation, and I sent those feelings of love out to the world. I spent time at the beach, in awe of the waves and the dolphins that greeted me. I was enamored by my playful dog, Norman. For most of the day I experienced pure joy – the sweet byproduct of being fully and completely present.


Don’t get me wrong…I still felt a few moments of agitation on Wednesday. You see, fruit flies had mounted a takeover in my kitchen, and I really cannot stand fruit flies.


Yes, on Wednesday this week I worried about fruit flies invading my kitchen!


Again, ignorance was bliss.


Before we said our goodbyes at noon on Thursday, our brilliant teachers Beth Mulligan and Hugh O’Neill warned the group that we might be stunned by the headlines we read. They suggested we try our best to protect our mindful, present state; otherwise we might get sucked into a rabbit hole and lose what we had gained. 


Of course my mind imagined worst-case scenarios, and my heart raced as I signed off of Zoom and immediately opened the news. When I saw headlines about the attempted takeover of the Capitol on Wednesday, I felt relief (because it wasn’t an atomic bomb) and then stunned as I pieced together what had happened. I imagined what it must have been like to be inside the Capitol as the rioters invaded, and I also imagined watching it unfold throughout the day.


I could feel my full, open, beaming heart begin to close. 


One of the teachers during the retreat reminded us that mindfulness gives us the power of choice. When I’m paying attention to what I’m doing, as opposed to mindlessly scrolling, clicking, listening, and watching, I can choose to take actions that nurture my mind and my heart. 


In an attempt to preserve my heart, I turned off my computer and snuggled with Norman on the couch. I called my mom to assure her that I survived the retreat in one piece. I took a nap and enjoyed the silence and safety of my home before getting back online to learn more about what had happened. 


I know from experience that it’s best to not have expectations going into a retreat. Sometimes I feel blissful, open-hearted, present, and connected. Other times I am overcome by grief, agitation, restlessness, and anxiety. Usually, the week includes a mixture of it all. I knew going into this retreat that it could be a complete nightmare (thanks to the many distractions in my home), or it could be especially awesome (thanks to sleeping in my own bed).


I’m pleasantly surprised that a retreat from home could give me the same peaceful feeling I’ve experienced on retreats in gorgeous settings. 


I won’t attempt to share the many lessons I took away… they’re still percolating and settling. I will say, though, that I am choosing to have faith in humanity. I believe whole-heartedly that wise, courageous, and fierce compassion can and will heal our nation. 


Now, if only I could do something about those fruit flies… 

***Shout out to Beth Mulligan, Hugh O’Neill and the other wise and warm teachers at Mindful-Way.com. I cannot recommend their at-home retreats highly enough.

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