A few days back I was having lunch with a new friend who I met at a retreat and we were discussing her experience at a 6-day silent retreat at Spirit Rock. This was truly a “silent” retreat with 14 hours of meditation everyday!
What a treat:-)
In some ways, you can expect perfect calm and relaxation at a retreat like this. No to do lists, no errands, no work, no email, no cooking, no cleaning. You get it! And yet in some ways, being alone with our own mind, truly paying attention, witnessing what shows up WITHOUT judgment is very hard work, very hard work!! (My friend Jeena Cho has a beautiful post on her experience at a silent retreat that is very heartwarming!)
As I was listening to her honest stories and reflections, she said something that deeply stuck with me –
“I didn’t experience PERFECT ENLIGHTENMENT in any way but many several moments of enlightenment; moments of clarity, joy, peace along with moments of chaos, confusion, frustration, resistance, fear.”
Her statement was indeed magical. Many of us secretly aspire to that perfect state of clarity and peace yet the reality is that it almost never exists. It is in the moments of confusion that we get a chance to practice mindfulness, to practice self – compassion and further enhance our ability to see clearly and become a tiny bit more skilled at navigating all of life’s confusions. And when we are in the muck, it is so hard to see its wonderful gifts that we can get so anxious to push it aside and not be in the state of confusion. And yet, the discomfort is what truly helps us get a little closer to the feeling of calm!
In fact, over the years I have realized that when we aspire for that perfect enlightenment, we actually set ourselves up for failure because we forget what it means to be human.
I now aspire for the ability to feel and clearly see the pain, the anger, the confusion, the chaos and witness it without any judgment but have the wisdom to respond skillfully to these emotions. And this is indeed hard because I am constantly trying to be that “strong person” who doesn’t cry. Ah, the ego!
As Thich Nhat Hanh says – “Suffering can feel so bad, we try to run away from it or cover it up by consuming. We find something to eat or turn on the television. But unless we’re able to face our suffering, we can’t be present and available to life, and happiness will continue to elude us.”
As I reflected on our conversation even further, I realized this retreat showed us what life really is and we need to find those moments of small enlightenments along with our to do lists, cooking, cleaning, working, emails, etc. that can sometimes seem to overconsume us!