Iím back from my meditation retreat. Rather than feeling renewed, Iím feeling depleted at the moment. I think itís probably positive that I feel this way, though. Itís sort of like having just done a lot of exercise. Iím exhausted, but it was ultimately good for me.

It brought up a lot of things that I was unprepared to contend with. I had forgotten how difficult intense meditation can be. I started out the day feeling almost competitive, looking around thinking, ďOh yeah, Iíll meditate circles around these guys.Ē

The first sitting went as most of my sittings have gone, lately. (Distraction, distraction, distraction, oh, am I supposed to be meditating, right now?)

The second sitting, thoughÖ the priest told a koan about a monk who was a leper, back in the day when infectious disease was blamed on the infected person (not like nowÖ oh wait). Anyway, this poor leper monk believed that it was some evil within him that caused his leprosy and he went to a teacher and asked him to cleanse him of his badness. The teacher told him that if he brought him his badness, heíd cleanse it for him.

After some period of time, the leper monk went back to the teacher and told him that heís looked everywhere, but couldnít find his badness, and the teacher replied, ďAh, Iíve cleansed it for you.Ē

It showed me how we often take something intangible, hurt, guilt, depression or whatever and turn it into something tangible. This gives it the power to hurt us legitimately.

This is what I realized logically. In practice, this meant that for the entirety of the next meditation, I was staring down my self-loathing.

This thing that I had thought was long dead, but no, it had just been hiding under a rock somewhere, gathering strength. The shock and surprise of having to slay this monster again almost did me in.

Of course, itís still here, it never really dies. Sometimes itís weaker than others, but it never goes away. It doesnít do me any favors to turn a blind eye to it, pretending that it canít come back at any point.

The remaining meditations were not quite as scary, but they were fruitful. I obviously need regular practice more often than I think. The few minutes a day that Iíve been doing hasnít been keeping me on track, and the Sunday night meditations have been sort of like play-meditation. I havenít really been giving it my all.

I had another experience that was simultaneously profoundly spiritual and hilarious. In Buddhist texts, various practices are referred to as ďthe path.Ē The path to enlightenment and so on. Iíve always imagined it to be a physical path. I usually saw it in a wooded area, and those of us who wished to follow Buddha would trail along behind him in single file.

Today, the priest took us on a walking meditation. There is a trail through the wooded area around the retreat center. It was frigid and there was snow on the ground. There was one person in front of me, and then the monk. I could see the robe and bald head, but the presence of another person reminded me that we were in a line.

After walking a few minutes, in this single file line through the woods, we passed a sign, and it said, ďPath.Ē

I smiled at it, realizing that this thing that has always existed in my imagination has just become real. We soon passed a few more signs marking the path, some of them had arrows, and some not, but they all just contained the single word ďpath.Ē The more signs we passed, the happier I got, and soon I was struggling with holding in my laughter. Iím not sure if I wanted to laugh because it was ironic or if I was just that delighted.

In case you were wondering, this is not a Buddhist owned retreat center. Its use is open to all religions, but it is run by Quakers.

During that walk on ďthe pathĒ I got a small taste of how I began to feel when I was in England this summer. I shed my environment, and with it, my stress. I was able to open my heart and feed my soul.

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Sunday, Feb. 04, 2007 at 10:01 PM