For Christmas this year, I gave myself a little 'treat' and went on a 7-day meditation retreat in the mountains of Colorado. Several of the days were in silence. I can't even brush the surface of my experiences to others by simply exclaiming 'it was good!' or even with a 5 minute conversation. Basically, sitting for so many days in the same room as 120 people is a crazy trip; watching how the mind creates so much drama is a scary and hilarious trip. I went from 'Ya, I've got this, no problem. So easy' to 'Holy shit, can the farter next to me control himself and does that woman really need to wail and cry so loudly?' to 'I HATE MY DISHWASHING TEAM' to 'Helloooooooo universe and sparkling light beams, can you feeeeeel my bliss?' to…… well I think that's enough. I mean, that's only a glimpse into one day of my inner dialogue. I know it will take months for me to continue processing what I thought I knew and the depths of true grounding I uncovered. There is so much space within and without the many expectations that were shattered during the week, I could not have discovered it.
The retreat was absolutely a beneficial and crucial journey as I strive to live authentically as a humble student and also as a guide for others ready to face themselves. Be prepared though - as Chogyam Trungpa captures below, the mind will do almost anything to avoid boredom. And boredom is exactly what we need to relax into, after cutting through all the other needless drama. Just sit and sit. Get off the perch, release the drama and attention-seeking and befriend the boredom…….
“The practice of meditation is an undoing process. If you want to dissect and examine the body of ego, you start by cutting a slit in the skin and then you cut through the arteries. So the practitioner begins with an operation. Credentials are an illness and you need an operation to remove them. With your sickness you are trying to prove that you exist. “I am sick, therefore I am real, I feel pain.” So the operation is to eliminate the notion of being an important person simply because you are sick. Of course you can attract all kinds of attention if you declare that you are sick. That is a very wretched way of proving your existence. That is precisely what credentials do. They prove that you are sick so that you can have attention from your friends. We have to operate on this person to eliminate the credential sickness. The first step of the operation is to make a little slit…. Sitting and meditating is the little slit….
You just sit. It is a very humble gesture on your part – just sit and cut through your thoughts, just welcome your breathing going out and in, just natural breathing, no special breathing, just sit and develop the watchfulness of your breathing. We see what is happening there rather than developing concentration, which is goal-oriented. In mindfulness practice there is no goal, no journey; you are just mindful of what is happening there.
There is no promise of love and light or visions of any kind – no angels, no devils. Nothing happens: it is absolutely boring. Sometimes you feel silly. One often asks the question, “Am I on to something or not?” You are not on to something. Travelling the path means you get off everything, there is no place to perch. Sit and feel your breath, be with it. Then you realize that the actual practice (the operation of dissecting and making the little slit) takes place when you begin to feel the boredom of the practice – real boredom. “I’m supposed to get something out of Buddhism and meditation. I’m supposed to attain different levels of realization. I haven’t. I’m bored stiff.” Boredom is important because boredom is anti-credential. Credentials are entertaining, always bringing you something new, something lively, something fantastic, all kinds of solutions. When you take away the idea of credentials, then there is boredom.
Boredom is important in meditation practice; it increases the psychological sophistication of the practitioners. They begin to appreciate boredom and they develop their sophistication until the boredom begins to become cool boredom, like a mountain river. It flows and flows and flows, methodically and repetitiously, but it is very cooling, very refreshing. Mountains never get tired of being mountains and waterfalls never get tired of being waterfalls. Because of their patience we begin to appreciate them. There is something in that. Sit, sit, sit, sit. Cut through the ego until the boredom becomes extraordinarily powerful.
The tradition is trying to bring out the boredom, which is a necessary aspect of the narrow path of discipline but instead the practice turns out to be something you could tell your friends about: “Last year I spent the whole fall sitting in a Zen monastery for six months. I watched autumn turn into winter and I did my practice and everything was so precise and beautiful. I learned how to sit and it was a wonderful experience and I did not get bored at all.”
You tell your friends, “Go, it’s great fun,” and you collect another credential. The first point in destroying ego’s game is the strict discipline of sitting meditation practice. No intellectual speculation, no philosophizing. Just sit and do it." (C Trungpa)