As MBSR instructors, we are encouraged to attend one silent retreat per year. This year, I chose a 7-day retreat at Insight Meditation Society (IMS) In Barre, Massachusetts. Seven days without cell phones, TV or computers. Seven days without speaking. Seven days without coffee, meat or alcohol. Daunting as it sounds, it was exactly what I needed!
Although I am not Buddhist, I learned much about my self in their teaching, "Hindrances to meditation practice". The major 5 hindrances include Desire or Craving, Aversion, Restlessness, Sloth and Torpor (sleepiness), and Delusion (confusion or doubt). For me, the first two days were filled with Sloth and Torpor. Every time I sat down on my cushion (5 times daily) and tried to meditate, I immediately fell into a dream-like state. So frustrating, but not surprising. I knew that was going to happen. I had been pushing myself hard over the past couple months, so I knew it would take a couple days to "settle in".
However, what did surprise me was, once the sleepiness wore off, I experienced a little known phenomenon to me...PAIN! Knee pain, butt pain, back pain, all over pain. But only during the time I sat on my cushion. As soon as the bell rang to end the meditation, and I moved my position, the pain stopped. I tried everything to get rid of the pain, Advil, changing my position, using a different cushion, and alternating tensing and relaxing my muscles. I tried to ignore the pain, making myself think of something else. Nothing worked. For 3 days straight, pain was front and center in my field of awareness.
By day 5, I was in tears. This was not the meditation retreat I signed up for! I wanted bliss and enlightenment! I clearly was struggling with the hindrance of Desire; wanting a pain free retreat experience.
Then, one of the evening talks addressed attachments, and how they cause suffering. Once I realized that I was attached to the idea of a blissful, pain-free retreat, I practiced the remedy: letting go. I also began to relax into the pain, exploring the sensations with a beginner's mind. Exploring it's boundaries, how it changed from moment to moment. At first, the pain intensified. I dove in even further, breathing deeply.
After this paradigm shift, I swear to you the pain disappeared for my next two sits! I thought it was magic! It returned again intermittently over the last 2 days, but it was not as intense as when I was trying to push it away.
I learned many valuable lessons on this retreat. One lesson is that, when I see myself attached to a particular situation, or thing in my life, to trust that things may still be okay if everything doesn't always go my way. In fact, allowing situations to unfold naturally, without trying to control them or push them away, may even create better outcomes than I had ever anticipated.