I’m not a Buddhist.
This means I refuse to make Buddhism me and mine.
I can’t tell you how Buddhist this is.
However, I am still not a Buddhist.
I just got back from my 2nd silent meditation retreat that was not so silent because my partner came with me and we broke all the rules within a couple hours of silence being imposed. I knew this was coming. Here’s how we decided to go together.
Me: I think I’m going to go to Spirit Rock in July and do a silent yoga and meditation retreat.
Her: I want to go to Spirit Rock. (You must remember that we barely cusp the age of four when we are together.)
Me: I don’t want you to go.
Her: You’re hurting my feelings.
Me: Because if you go, and I have a hard time with anything, then I’m going to come talk to you and you’re going to take care of me and it will all be a bust.
Her: You’re still hurting my feelings.
Me: But if I have a hard time, it might be nice to have you take care of me.
Her: Maybe I shouldn’t go.
Me: You drive me out of my mind.
Her: YOU drive ME out of my mind.
Me: Should I put it on the American Express?
So, no surprise, I got freaked out by something and someone and she ended up taking care of me. One night the person in the room next to me was snoring so loud I went down and slept with my partner in her monastic single bed. It kind of reminded me of when I was living at the convent in high school, in love with the nun down the hall. I suppose that might be called karma. Or just lesbian drama repeating itself, which does happen, believe me.
Anyhow, in the not-so-silent retreat, my partner and I achieved silence by me going to sleep in one of the offices after having a conflict with one of the teachers. We stopped winking after a while, too. Though we did make eye contact, and you’re not supposed to do that either. I justify the eye contact because I broke that rule with anyone who’d look at me. I just can’t take walking around refusing to look at everyone. It makes me feel like a lemming. Or a prisoner of war. But the truth is, with my partner, not acknowledging my love for her feels like the biggest self-betrayal ever. Here, I am truly not Buddhist. Loving my partner feels like who I am. Very, very, very me and mine. Perhaps I need to go back and follow the rules.
Anyhow, if you want to know what I learned at that retreat, it’s this: nothing in life comes without the unexpected. So often this means worse case scenario–and in terms of my partner and I, our predictable rebellion and immaturity (remember, no older than four…okay, well, I hit five a lot, but no older than five), clearly foreseeable because I foresaw it, was worse case scenario for being a good Buddhist. But the unexpected was also lying in that damn single bed in the middle of the night, head to foot, my arm wrapped around her calves while she breathed deeply, almost snoring, feeling safe. Remembering that though I can also feel very scared when my partner is angry with me, so often it’s just one silent moment, in any bed, on any night, with some light or another creeping past the shade, and me lying awake, listening to her breathing. How precious that is to me, her lungs filling and emptying, the feel of her arm or her back, the utter privacy of my wakefulness and whatever I feel–love, longing, gratitude, fear.
I guess I learned that my partner and I can fuck up our meditation retreat and it’s still okay. As one of the teachers said, “You’re having the retreat you’re supposed to have.” (She didn’t add “You two codependent monsters,” either.)
I also learned that my knees have gotten better and I can now do steep hikes again. In my 20’s, when I lived in Tucson, I went out to the desert alone 2-3 times a week and hiked up to Seven Falls in Bear Canyon, and later I hiked the Grand Canyon, running down after my morning shift and sleeping over night and then hiking up the next day. I hiked in Switzerland and West Virginia, at Yosemite and Muir Woods. So, at the meditation retreat I discovered that joy again, that me and mine of solitude and the natural world. Expansive and silent, hawks circling overhead, stopping to catch my breath, the ocean just visible beyond the scrub trees….
I also loved the yoga. I seem to be on a path with yoga–I’ve been doing Iyengar for a couple years now and the teachers at Spirit Rock seem to be kind of anti-Iyengar as they are searching for a feminist take on yoga, a way to find the yin, the female principle, in a discipline that in history often left women out. It’s an ongoing struggle for me in life anyhow…balancing yin and yang, balancing ways to process, ways to see. But I loved the yoga…mindfulness in yoga in the mornings, restorative or yin in the afternoons. Perhaps anyone who enters yoga deeply as part of a spiritual path must make this journey to their own yoga…perfect alignment or intuitive movement? Hard core exercise or slow investigation of presence? Or the middle ways…and there are many of those.
So the upshot is that I went to a meditation retreat, did meditation-light, fought with one of the teachers to illustrate to myself that authority figures who I don’t trust still freak me out, got support appropriately, broke all the rules with my partner, found joy in hiking and yoga, and wrote a bunch of poems (also breaking noble silence since you’re not supposed to write).
I tried to be present for all of it…the imperfection, the joy, the conflict, the honesty of the people who supported me and challenged me to look at myself. It didn’t seem to be much about meditation until the last days, when I just started sending myself lovingkindness, and realized that metta is indeed the path.
May I be well, May I be happy, May I be free from suffering, May I be safe and protected, May I be at peace with what is. On meditation retreats when I am f-ing up everywhere I turn. And today. This one day. This one moment. Now.