I probably would have signed up for a three month retreat immediately, but the longest retreat they would let me sign up for, having zero prior meditation experience, was two weeks. I ended up sitting the first two weeks Spirit Rock’s two month spring retreat. There were about 70 people there, and we’d spend all day alternating between 45 minutes of sitting and walking meditation with breaks only for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Once a day, I would do some Iyengar yoga which helped my body adjust to being still for long periods of time. I would meet with a teacher every few days for about 15 minutes so that they could give me guidance… and probably make sure I wasn’t about to freak out.
Every night there would be a meditation talk by one of the teachers and I remember thinking how odd it was that they kept talking mentioning the Buddha so often. Somehow, I never realized that Spirit Rock was a Buddhist meditation retreat center. It may seem strange, but I never thought about this as a religious pursuit, but rather as a laboratory in which to study my mind. I came to discovered that the Spirit Rock Meditation Center teaches Vipassana (or Insight) Meditation.
The meditation instruction was very simple (not to be confused with ‘easy’). The instructions were to follow the breath, paying close attention to each in-breath and each out-breath. After a couple of breaths, the mind would begin to wander and once this was realized, we were to bring our attention gently back to the breath. After the first few hundred times, you start to get over
The first few days were challenging since my mind was all over the place, jumping from one thought to the next, an experience which is often referred to as monkey-mind. I remember being particularly annoyed by this constant narration and analysis of my experience running through my head. I often would find myself imagining my retreat experiences of the moment to an imagined friend. After a few moments, I’d realize that I’m just talking to myself in my head and my friend is not here with me and I would put an end to the internal dialogue. But then a few minutes later I’d find myself doing the same thing again. Sigh.
When practicing sitting meditation, the instructions are to avoid making any movements if at all possible. This can be really challenging when your legs fall asleep or start to ache. Sometimes my legs would go numb and I’d usually shift my position when that happened. I used to think that this was caused by the circulation being cut off. I remember once at a Cheri Huber retreat, I mentioned during a discussion that I worried that not moving when my legs when they started to go numb from not getting enough blood was cruel because it was like “withholding food” from the cells which led to a stunned silence in the room. I’ve since read that this numbness is actually caused by a pinched nerve which may be true since the ‘pins and needles’ feeling as sensations begin to return does feel similar to that ‘funny bone’ sensation when you bang your elbow.