What is something — a conversation, advice you received, etc. — you became grateful for only well after it occurred? Why did it take you so long?
In 2013, I signed on to do a nine-month-long meditation retreat with the Center for Mindful Learning in Burlington, VT, USA. It’s pretty common for people to feel really grateful for these sorts of things, and to talk about how powerful and transformative the experiences were for them. I used that to my advantage when I told people how grateful I was for the experience — nobody wants to admit that they’ve wasted nearly a year of their lives.
I’d gone out with a straightforward intention: get enlightened and go home. Maybe you resonate with that intention? You’re already pretty much on top of it, more or less doing the right thing, perfect exactly as you are — right? — and if you could just figure this one thing out then you’d be all set.
On retreat, I was absolutely convinced that I’d done it for a few seconds at a time every now and then. I’d have some experience, conclude that that was emptiness — shunyata, God, the void, whatever you want to call it — get really excited about it, and tell anyone around that things were going pretty well.
The rest of the time, I was all over the place: happy to be there, annoyed at the teachings, frustrated at my inability to get things the way I wanted them to be, irritated with my fellow residents, and on and on. And as the months progressed, I got more and more annoyed, uncomfortable, and interested in just taking off. None of the teachings made any sense. I was sure I could be making more progress outside the monastery than I could within it.
So, eventually, I left. I went home with whatever realization I had from that experience, and resolved to set aside all this meditation nonsense and just get on with changing the world. And thus began the slow, gradual process of realizing what a profound gift I’d been given.
See, a lot of the discomfort and irritation that I’d attributed to the retreat lifestyle had actually always been there. The thing that changed on retreat was that I stopped being able to distract myself from it. And once I saw it clearly, it became unmistakable — I could not unsee. My life hadn’t gotten worse — I’d just gotten a clearer picture of how bad it already was!
In the intervening couple of years, this clarity became transformative. Now that I wasn’t just ignoring my suffering, I could actually start to release it — to let go, as they tell you to do in monasteries, as I’d been so frustrated at hearing over and over again, and as I’m now so relieved to be able to do.
This didn’t happen overnight: going back into the world was horrible for me. I got into situation after situation that was just terrible. My life seemed like a total trainwreck, and in a lot of ways, it was. But there’s been a major, gradual shift: now I have a clear direction. No matter what the situation, I find that I can let go into this experience. I find that just having this experience, exactly as it is, frees me from a great degree of struggle. And as I taste this freedom, I also taste a profound sense of gratitude that’s been a long time coming. Thank you, CML, for making my life so unbearable — or more accurately, for showing me how unbearable my life was, and for giving me the tools to resolve that right now.
by Steven Dee