It seems like so long ago that I quietly conquered my first silent meditation retreat. It’s only been a month, but in that month, I passed over, well actually I guess I Yom Kippurred, into the last year of my 40’s. I can only hope that my 49th year will be sealed in the Book of Life. Wait, if I just turned 49, it’s really the start of my 50th year, right?
Anyway, in that Book of Life, moments fly or die depending on what you’re doing. For almost everything on a meditation retreat, the tick of the clock is slow. You might as well be trying to pass a kidney stone or a federal budget – that’s how slow it goes. The only time your seconds pass by quickly is when your 15-minute allotted shower period is being timed by the next person on the bathhouse list, or you’re sleeping. For both, the chimes toll all too soon.
Due to the noise factor, there were no hair dryers allowed on this retreat. In hindsight, a blow dryer doesn’t agitate silence anymore than the sound of shower water running for 15 minutes. But on the plus side, if no one has a blow dryer, there’s no fashion show to be had. Sooner or later, everyone’s hair looks the same. Advantage: bald head….and reason number one to shave my skull clean on my 50th birthday. Reasons and rationale to be pondered over the coming year.
Retreat time goes by particularly slowly during walking meditation. One sunny day, many, including me, decided to practice in the lush open field in front of my tent cabin, the one that had just been raked of all grass clippings during work meditation. At one point, as I was trying to be mindfully in the moment, I looked up and LnOL’d (laughed NOT out loud). The grassy knoll looked as though it was full of zombies, all putting one foot slowly in front of the other, straight out of the waking (not walking) dead. Or for a different visual, how about everyone’s practicing the wedding march but with their heads down and their paths all in different directions. Or better yet, let’s put it all together with this image: zombies doing the Thorazine-Haldol shuffle in preparation for a walk down a wedding aisle the size of a football field without the gridlines or referees for guidance.
Despite the slow passage of time, I enjoyed walking meditation. While walking, nothing hurt; unlike seated meditation where I found the time to find the pain in just about every body part: knees, thoracic spine, funny bones, teeth, earlobes, and toenails. If it was too hot outside, I could dally in the damp cool shade of the tool shed and bask in the olfactory memories of my childhood. I could almost smell the fishing worm pile or the snowmobile gasoline on the Carhartt jackets and hats hanging over the dirt floor, packed solid like cement from generations of work boot foot prints. If it was pleasantly sunny, I could go out into that grassy knoll, roll up my shirt sleeves, don my sunglasses, put on some SPF 15 chapstick and pace back and forth, into and out of the sun, tanning the flip side with each turn.
My first morning back into the real world included my normal routine on MARTA – always a true test of my ability to walk mindfully slowly. My fellow passengers did not disappoint. They gave me every opportunity to practice by moving as slowly as they possibly could. They got on the escalator and instead of moving to the right like you’re supposed to do if you’re not going to walk, they stood to the left and didn’t move, blocking everyone behind them, nearly causing an I-75-style pile-up when the stairs reached the top. My walking meditation was thwarted; turned swiftly into standing meditation – the only thing swift on MARTA that day. And the only thing worse would have been a fire drill in my building (or Goddess forbid the real thing). The norm means that everyone, even the men, put on high heels and tiptoe like Tiny Tim through the tulips down 21 flights of stairs until their calves have been herded like cows four blocks away from the office.
The worse did not happen. And since my return to the real world, I try to practice mindfulness on MARTA whenever possible, even when the child in front of me is brandishing what I hope is a toy gun.