The Story of An Arkansas Atheist: Retreat Edition Ep. 2 (2/3)

2. Mid-day Pathmaker: Last year on my first trip to Peenemunde, the bridge stood in its earliest stages of construction, and I drew near the end of my penultimate semester of undergraduate work. During that weekend I discovered a small clearing thirty paces or less directly behind the cabin. I took a little metal fold-out table and a camping chair to study for my Ethics final (totally aced the class, boom!). Time to make this oasis of education a more permanent spot.

Ret Ed Ep 2 cont
I almost grabbed this log to turn into fire wood for the newly created fire pit at the Oasis of Education, but noticed these little spires at the last second. They were far too fascinating to destroy so I’ve captured them and now sent the images into virtual space to be transmitted into outer-space at the speed of light. To this minute the picture captures the imagination.

First things mostly being first, I began gathering rocks to construct a fire pit. During this process two things were pressing on my mind: where to put the tent and how to deal with all the thorny vines growing from the floor of the clearing and draped from the trees surrounding. These things could damage the tent as well as flesh. This is truly when I decided to name the new campsite as “The Oasis of Education.”

This is partially true because of the amount of study I had to do for that test, the amount of study I had to do to find a tent place, and ultimately because, this is where the six hour mediation would be held. I still hadn’t decided exactly what that would consist of just yet, or which of my days I would choose to try it out. The only decided at this point is that would take place here.

I feel like I ought to take a few paragraphs to explain what goes into the UMass all day meditation event, along with a definition of Mindfulness as opposed to “being mindful.” Also, many of my readers would benefit from knowing something about Mindfulness mediation for these descriptions to have the desired. So all that taken into consideration. Let me describe with a little more time and detail than usual of what goes into Mindfulness meditation practices, Lovingkindness-and-forgivenss meditative practice, Walking Mediation, and the all day meditation at the clinic.

Beginning with Mindfulness, the easiest way to describe the practice is “letting thoughts go.” This is begun by practicing what Dr. Kabat-Zinn calls “being with your breath.” This is a practice of “non-doing” or “non-striving.” A process of simply sitting and noticing your breath, and then letting go of mental distractions that pop up during. This sounds simple enough, but I challenge you to try it for three minutes. One quickly finds that the minds fills with all kinds of chatter and the body wants to itch, twitch, and wiggle. One of the most powerful moments that I’ve ever had meditating happened when I was being with my breath for a fifteen minute session. My mind tried to betray me in every way that it could. The chatter in my head began yelling at me to “stop wasting my time,” “this is so stupid,” and this is “boring.” My own mind told me how “pathetic” I am for even trying. When I told my mother about this she said, “That’s the dark energy.” I may have written about this before, but the my reply was, “No, mom, it’s worse. It came from me.” Fortunately, Dr. Kabat-Zinn gives the most helpful advice for these types of situation, “If your mind wanders away from the breath a thousand times, then your ‘job’ is to simply to notice what is on your mind at the moment that you come to realize that it is no longer on your breathing, and then to bring your attention back to breath each and every time.” (Full Catastrophe Living, 58) Lovingkindness-and-forgivness is a little easier to wrap one’s head around, in my opinion.

This type of meditative function is to allow us a tool for conditioning the mind, to see everyone as human as we see ourselves. You start with positive self talk such as, “I love myself. I am worthy of love and kindness. I am whole.” Then move to people that we love. The next step is difficult, moving on to someone you have a problem with, or perhaps even hate. The benefit of seeing people we care for is intuitive, but the benefit of seeing people we dislike in this light cannot be overstated. This is where the “forgiveness” part comes in, and where letting go is practiced at its highest level, as letting go of anger or hate for someone (especially to the self) is particularly difficult under any circumstances. This is one of the major factors making the all day meditation so powerful.

Dr. Kabat-Zinn’s all day mediation is composed of these two practices mostly, but with twists along the way. They begin with Mindfulness yoga for an hour, followed by walking meditations and sitting meditations, always noticing breath. They even eat lunch under these conditions. Noticing chewing, taste, and swallowing, then letting it go, pausing only to find breath between each bite. Then back to breath and walking meditations. They do a period of irregular walking meditations where the participants change direction every few steps. There is a visualization meditation period towards the end followed by a conclusion of sitting with breath. Having this template, I knew that whichever of my days would be chosen, it would be the right day.

I am more than confident that this experience is something at which my particular personality type will excel. Six hours is a long time, but I feel that it is necessary. I have always loved commitment and this has only been strengthened in this new era of health—this new way of living.

Alright, where was I, oh yes. I also took this time to work on a short trail out to The Oasis of Education from the front of the carport. I stood up a couple of flagstones to mark the entrances at both ends of the new path. The winding trail’s lane is marked on both sides by fallen saplings and large stones which were too large for the new fire pit. The final touches to the path from the back of the cabin and on the new trail was to clear all obstructive thorns and a small dead stump. This took me most of the midday.

During breaks from my work to get The Oasis settled and ready I spent chopping wood or reading Camus’ The Stranger. Once the afternoon sun began to touch the tops of the southern treeline, I noticed that my hunger had grown to meal-sized proportions and the desire for some more mediation had also blossomed. This is not the type of thing I normally do.

When I practice at home, I do not really give in to spontaneous mediation. The reason rooted in the desire to not be reliant on any, capital “any,” particular behavior, a decision made when quitting cigarettes. But here, on a writing and meditation retreat, anything goes.

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