Everything is Uphill

“You park here”, the lady said, “and the check in is up there.” I gazed up the hill at the beauty of this place and realized this entire week was gonna be uphill. I never really imagined what I was thinking and the depths of how real it was. Everything is uphill.

From my first step I was beginning the journey of a lifetime. I looked around at the steep grassy hills, dotted with groves of brilliant green trees. I looked at the buildings set against this stunning backdrop and noticed how each one blended in and was accented by the grassy hills. There was a peacefulness here and it was evident that this was a powerful land and this was a powerful place.

I walked slowly uphill to the retreat site and through the gate that had a large prayer wheel…what the heck, I gave it a spin and said a silent prayer as I walked through the gate. I could feel the energy emanating from all around me. At first it was intimidating but soon it washed over me in a wave of warmth and a peaceful feeling came over me. I continued uphill till I came to the first building, a sign said “Start Here”.

That was the beginning of it all. From that moment forward everything was gonna be uphill. My cabin, the main meditation hall, the dinning hall and the path that took you to the top of the beautiful hills. Even my spiritual growth would be an uphill climb. There wasn’t much further down I was willing to go, so I welcomed the energy and settled in.

That was four days ago. I have surmounted more hills both metaphysically and physically. We do a walking meditation eight times a day. At least one of those meditations I take the path to the top of the hill and explore. It is breathtakingly beautiful and in a meditative state you don’t even feel the gravity or your heart beating in your chest. Your breathing is slow and steady and with each slow methodical step you climb further up.

Scattered at the top are more trails leading off to glorious views of the surrounding countryside. Each trail has benches with makeshift alters and colorfully adorned Buddhas with prayer beads and chakra stones. The energy radiates clear up to the top of the hill from the valley below and you can gaze out and soar with the birds gliding on the air currents. Since this is a silent retreat there is no human sound short of footsteps. The deer walk right out onto the fields as you stand there. The lizards scurry around at your feet. Bees buzz as they do their busy work. The trees whisper their stories for anyone willing to listen.

I’ve learned this week that uphill can be hard and it can also be rewarding. Uphill isn’t so bad after all.

Day Three: Mindful Awareness

Each day starts out before the dawn. The sound of bells, deep, low gongs. I awoke in a great deal of pain today. Perhaps from sitting and walking…or maybe it was the bed? No matter, just one more hurdle in my day. It could be pain caused by emotional upheaval manifesting itself in physical pain. The things we put ourselves through to achieve peace of mind, body and spirit.

I roll out of bed and head to morning meditation, 6:15 sharp. The first few meditations were guided, the last few however, have been left to us and our personal practice. After sitting for forty five minutes we have walking meditation and then breakfast. Today I had a special awareness on my walking meditation. I heard a small bird calling in the morning light, hidden away inside a tree. I paused and listened to its tiny calls and finally found it amongst the tangle of branches…it was the smallest hummingbird sitting on a branch singing away. It sat and watched me as I listened. Nothing else around was present, just me and this small bird. I thanked it for its early morning song, and continued on my walk. It is this awareness, this awakening that can only be achieved in a silent meditation.

Have I told you how loud silence is? Silence is very loud at times and very calming others. I can hear the pounding of my heart, the rush of blood through my head, my belly is always making very loud noises since I am eating delicious food that is totally foreign to its system. In silence you can here the wind, you can here the rustling of the trees, every sound you normally wouldn’t even notice is ten times louder when no one is speaking. You can hear birds feathers on the wind as they glide by. In silence I have come to appreciate all that goes unnoticed. You can hear distant buzzing from the bees collecting nectar. The world is silent when we are making sounds and full of incredible sounds when we are quiet.

I have also noticed, when silent, all other senses are heightened. Like I said earlier, I hear even the smallest sound. I wish I could bottle the smell of the air here. My eyes see colors more vividly. My mind thinks clearer. I just want to touch everything as if it were for the first time. A heightened awareness of all my surroundings. The world is alive an vibrant and I have only to be silent to take it all in.

Day Two: The Road to Change

I just completed my first full day at Spirit Rock Meditaion Retreat Center in Woodacre, California. I have run the entire gambit of emotions in the last fifteen hours. I have cried silently, laughed silently and waged battle, silently, with acceptance. I have sat in meditation for eight long hours. I have walked slowly, silently for another eight. I have listened to the teachers as they have reached inside of me, grabbed hold of all my fears and opened the flood gates. I was brought face to face with my darkest demons and tried to make some peace.

Today has been a whirlwind ride into a place I haven’t been in a long time, myself. Here at the retreat we are devoid from outside interference. We all have entered into “noble silence”. We have a life line available to us at anytime if the experience gets to intense, to decompress and seek clarity and direction. This is no cake walk and these teachers are here to guide us and lift us up. It is up to me to decide what I get from this. Trust me, the last three sitting meditations were tough to attend.

This retreat is about Mindfulness. It’s about learning to love all parts of you. To embrace all you fears and felt inadequacies with kindness and acknowledging short comings. It’s about generating a compassionate inner being. Compassion for oneself is needed in order to give it. Love is needed for oneself in order to give it. Understanding how to internalize the good even in a messed up world. This retreat is about me and whatever I choose to take from it. Breakdown the walls, embracing whatever comes up, owning it and embracing it with love and compassion.

Day One: Finding Oneself

It’s my fifty fifth birthday. Life has been good to me without a doubt. Hard work and perseverance have paid off… but at what price? I have money, love, a great life partner, my own business, a beautiful house and means. Lately however I have lost something more important than all of those things… ME.

Sure I am happy and content on the outside, but the inside is a jumble of confusion, sadness and spiritual decay. This has led to depression and anger. So much so that those around me the most are often times the recipients or at least the observers of my unintentional and uncontrolled outbursts. It’s hard to accept, admit and own up to this. It’s harder still to accept it as a dark part of me and seek out ways to change.

Well change is exactly what I must do before all that lies behind me is a path of destruction… before I find myself alone. I know from my past lessons learned that inside of me is a constant battle. I’ve learned that when an imbalance occurs I must take a step back and gain equilibrium…I must put myself and my well-being above all else, or there will be nothing else.

This coming week I have chosen to attend a silent residential meditation retreat. I have chosen to place myself in the middle of nowhere, to disconnect from the outside world, to turn inside to my world and do some renovations. I have chosen to put my life and well-being in the hands of the teachers. I have chosen to be torn down and built back up. I have chosen to face my demons and fight the battle waging within. It is quite literally my life on the line. Not physically, but spiritually and emotionally. My foundation is not as strong as it once was.

This weeks goal is to root out the anger, frustration, sadness and whatever other little monsters I find lurking, and face them head on. To make peace with those demons. To find balance once again. I accept, acknowledge and own them. To find the spiritual tools to once again feel whole and grounded. It’s a path of enlightenment and peace. I will listen to the Buddha’s teachings and embrace the dharma. I will listen to, and take direction from the teachers and learn to live in spiritual harmony with all the good and bad within me. This is my path and mine alone.