Ten days is a long time. It's a really long time. It's hard to realize just how long a time it is. Really, one day is a long time. An hour is a long time. A minute is a long time. A veritable eternity when you're doing nothing.
I just spent ten days doing another meditation course. 12 hrs of sitting meditation a day for 10 days. It's not exactly doing nothing. It's actually incredibly unpleasant a lot of the time. Somehow it's easier when it's unpleasant though. The meditation becomes more active and the time passes quicker. But I make it through one sit, and then come back for the next one, and I stand next to my cushions for a second and think to myself, "oh my god, I'm going to do this again? and again, and again and again..."
It's unpleasant, physically and mentally, though at a certain depth the distinction between the two completely breaks down. On my last course, after having sat through 4 other courses, my tail bone started hurting. I'd never had trouble with my tail bone. The back pain has never gone away, though on my fourth course I stopped having pains my legs. But those pains never really felt like they were really connected to my physical structure. They felt more like amorphous, fluctuating blobs, almost alive, like wriggling amoebas. But the pain in my tail bone felt "real," like something pressing hard against it. But if it was real why hadn't it come up till now? From the get-go on this course the pain in my tail bone was back. So on day 3 I went and talked to the assistant teacher about it. "It might be physical, and it might just be part of your mental reactions, it's hard to know," he said. "Experiment with it, try different positions, work with it, go back to the breath if you need to." It was reassuring to talk with him. And the next sit I had no pain in my tail bone. For the rest of the course it came up occasionally, sometimes strongly, sometimes less so, sometimes not at all. Weird.
I was wracked with anxiety for most of the first two and a half days of this course. I thought about Willow a lot during the day, and was haunted by dreams of him at night. I cried a lot. I was in a lot of pain and discomfort while sitting. My whole body ached and I just couldn't sit still. The usual thoughts ran through my head: "I can't do this." "There's something wrong with me." "I should be doing better than this."
Things improved after I talked with the assistant teacher. He encouraged me to change my posture more, and reassured me that as long as I was doing my best to continuously bring my attention back to my respiration and sensations I was doing my job. He encouraged me to notice, "oh, this is self-doubt, this is anxiety." "It's common for long-term students to sometimes think, oh it's my 10th course, or 15th course, or second long course, I should be further along." I felt better. Mostly I'd gone to him for reassurance and perspective anyway.
I felt very humbled. This was my 6th course. I generally think getting through one course is a miracle for anyone. But I still get caught in the "I should be doing better" thought pattern. This crazy part of me keeps thinking that I'm about to reach enlightenment, if only I can do a little better (and boy does the anxiety hit me when I think I'm failing.)
It's clear as ever that I've taken a mere few steps down a very, very, very long path. It was very obvious to me how weak minded and neurotic I am. Luckily I was seeing it with a deep sense of compassion.
In some ways I am a very open and expressive person. But I hold some tall, strong walls up around myself. I'm afraid that if people see me for who I really am they will run screaming. I hold myself apart from people. I'm afraid of them, that they'll think I'm weird, that they'll reject me. Sometimes I just hide. Sometimes I cover it up with arrogance and superiority. Oh, and I'm cocky. I'd gotten this feedback from a couple people recently and denied it. But no, they were right: "Oh yeah, this is my 6th course, I've got this meditation shit down, no problem." Hmm, right.
On day 3 of the course, once I calmed down I began to observe my mind more: oh, that's self-doubt. Oh, that's anxiety. Oh, that's a comparing thought, an evaluating thought, a judging thought. Wow, there was a lot of those last three! Clearer than ever I got to see how hyperactive my tendencies to judge, evaluate, and compare are, especially between myself and others, always trying to asses how I measure up to others.
I also recognized how cowardly and conflict-avoidant I can be. I thought about how I've spent the last 4 months avoiding communication with a good friend because I think he might be mad at me. I really have no idea whether he is or not, but I've been too afraid to ask and face it, and have spent months worrying about it.
It was powerful to face how fidgety I get, not just when meditating, but all the time, especially when I'm trying to sleep. I'm so afraid of pain and discomfort and will shift my body to avoid it before it's even started. And as usual I drove myself crazy with anticipation, constantly thinking, "oh my god, still X more days..." It didn't matter how close to the end I was. Hours away the anxiety was still there: "oh my god, I still have X more hours..."
But again, what was most striking to me about all this was looking at how much energy I spend trying to make myself seem like I'm fine, I've got it all together, no worries, no problems. I deny my weaknesses. I hide them. But boy are they ever there.
I need to practice being small and weak with people. Not in a way that obligates them to take care of me, but that inspires them to hold a space of love and compassion for me, and to allow themselves to be small and weak in turn. Well, I'll let this be a start, pretending like I'm not still hiding behind an electronic screen.
I am so confused and anxious right now. During the course I realized how unsure I still am about my decision to leave Twin Oaks and Willow. Now that the course is done I find myself terrified to spend time with people and tell them about what's going on. I don't want to face the grief, nor do I want to face the embarrassment and shame I feel about leaving Willow, and I especially don't want to face any judgement they might have towards me.
I have no idea how my absence is impacting Willow. His life at Twin Oaks is so rich and so full of people who love him. I'm sure he wants me there. Coming out of the course I had an email from him asking me when I was coming back (ouch.) But how strong is that desire, and how is it actually affecting him? I have no idea.
It's clear to me how much it's affecting me. There's something so unambiguously satisfying about caring for a child, having their trust and confidence. Being a good parent is undoubtedly important work to make the world a better place. Is there really anything more worthwhile? I think about things I'm missing watching him grow up. He's so cute and smart. Challenging myself to stay emotionally accessible and creatively engaged with him has been profound.
It's not just him pulling me back. It would be so much easier to go back to Twin Oaks. It's a big scary world out here, and that's a small, well known world, filled with people who love and appreciate me, where I can be a big fish. All my self-doubt and insecurity is tell me to go back.
I don't want to listen to my fears. Last fall I was so in touch with this exciting path and the opportunities for pursuing it. I'm not really in that place right now. I'm sure things will look and feel different once I've returned to Portland and spent some time re-exploring possibilities there.
At the same time, if what I want to do is make the best use of my life to make the world a better place, why do I think I will be any more successful in that in Portland than at Twin Oaks? Sure, the results will look different, but who am I to judge which would be better?
I don't know what will happen, but I know I need to be exploring this path. I refuse to live life wondering what I might have been able to accomplish or how it would have been if I'd only taken the chance. And I know I don't need to make a decision yet, but it's still torturing me right now. I'm tired of my life being up in the air. I'm tired of not being able to commit. I'm tired of making people wait and wonder what I'm going to do, tired of people not being able to count on me or invest in me. And I'm tired of the grief and fear.
At the end of the meditation course, after the vow of silence was over, I was telling a fellow student about my situation. "Wow, it must be nice to not have anything you have to do," he said. "Yeah," I said. "I just have my whole life to recreate." He laughed.
Only it's so much more complicated than that. Splitting my attention, however unevenly, across a continent doesn't strike me as simple or easy task. Can I do it? Can I handle being apart from Willow? Are my dreams and ambitious really possible? I have no idea, and so far each day post-meditation course has been another day of working to keep my head above the anxious sea.
At this point my inclination would be to put some kind of positive, philosophical spin on the whole thing. I'm going to refrain.