I write this as it is approaching three months since I spent six days on a silent meditation retreat in the hills of Monchique, Portugal. I regret not having written this sooner, when my thoughts and feelings would be fresh, having poured out of me and into my journal during those days. I also feel hesitant to return to that time, feeling so far removed from it in this moment. Those six days are now rendered so unreal, so unlike my current state that I must have been only so lucky to have dreamt it.
But even as I write that, I remember the lessons of my dear teacher Hamid, who would tell me that that sense of presence, the process of awakening and becoming available for the present moment, the very essence of what I felt I became intimate with during the experience of my retreat – is in fact something that is always available to me. In this moment too.
So, Hamid had posed the question to me – “How was this experience for you?”
Well, that feels huge. This experience feels too big for words. How do I choose the “right words” to describe an experience of absolutely nothing, and at the same time, becoming intimate with a sense of total interconnectedness and universal love? How do I choose to remember it all?
I remember that sitting in silence for eight hours a day on a meditation cushion brought me inside myself in a way I have never been before. Attuned to every muscle ache and body pain. To every thought that passed, and to those that didn’t. How stripped down and vulnerable I felt. How I cried and the people around me held my pain in complete silence. How I cried for their pain too. How I gave myself to complete strangers in my rawest form, in ways people closest to me in my life have never seen me. And I felt seen by them in a way I had never felt before. I remember finding a home on my meditation cushion. Wanting to be exactly there. Feeling curious for how each block of sitting would unfold and being delighted and full of strange energy in those really early mornings. The intimacy of sharing meals in silence. Wanting to wash someone else’s dish after eating. Breathing in the smell of lunch being made. The cat on the roof. A reverence for the small rituals.
I remember inviting myself to feel exactly how I felt in each moment, whether it be sleepiness, sadness, joy, irritability, hunger, and those confusing spaces that don’t neatly fit into any category. Stillness. I remember watching myself fluctuate between all those feelings, all the time. Allowing myself to just be. I remember connecting with ancestors through memory. The anticipation for every piece of new insight. A hunger to write. How the words of my teacher brought me to tears. Feeling an abundance of love and an urgency to share that love.
“It is in deep silence that our true voice surfaces.” I will remember it all in this way.
On the last day of the retreat, I wrote in my journal: These are just stories I tell myself to stay in the pain. Drop them. I want to stay in the pain because then she can come to me, my dad can come to me. I want to be held. I hold myself. Today, I hold myself.