The meditation retreat yesterday -- Iím still fired up about it and can't wait to try it again on my own. I'll tell you everything we did and what I learned.
First off, we had a great guide. He is Buddhist and has been meditating and studying meditation for 30-40 years, here in the U.S. and in Thailand... or did he say Taiwan? Anyway, one of those places where people are really into it :) So while we were meditating, he was gently telling us what to visualize, how to focus on our breathing, just helpful, soothing advice.
I so appreciated hearing that it's normal when your thoughts drift off -- just gently bring back focus to your breathing. Don't force the breathing -- just observe it. Don't worry about doing it right or wrong -- just do it.
The first meditation we did was focusing on breathing. I've tried this before and definitely noticed in the past more of a forced, uncomfortable breathing. Yesterday, somehow, it was so different. Just easy and natural. Every once in a while he'd have us take a deeper, cleansing breath, and then return to normal breathing. If we found it helpful, he said we could count -- breathe in (one), breathe out (one), breathe in (two), breathe out (two), and so on. If you find it easier, just keep counting one. I like that! It's more of a mantra than counting :) Now that I think of it, one is more than a number too -- one with the universe. We are all one. Spectacular!
When we finished the first meditation, I asked how long we had been doing that, because you really lose all notion of time, and normally I manage to meditate for about 5 minutes before I'm ready to quit. We had been at it 28 minutes!!! It never felt too long. There were a few times when I thought he went quiet for a while, but that was probably intentional and a good thing, to give us a chance to try on our own without his guidance.
Some in our group had a lot of aches and pains while sitting there. They tried different positions throughout the day, and some had better luck than others at finding what worked for them. I was lucky -- no aches and pains. I had a cushy, large pillow on the bottom, and then a circular, thick meditation pillow made from buckwheat hulls ( www.fourgates.com/ZAFUB/
) on top of my cushy pillow. So my butt was up on the meditation pillow, and my ankles had the cushy pillow to rest on. He said you want to have good posture, but not so erect that your muscles are straining. I found that I would start to slouch as time went on, but I'd sit back up again and try to hold myself there. I'm definitely ordering one of those meditation pillows. I've had more aches & pains meditating at home, but with the combination of my own cushy, large pillow and the Four Gates pillow, I felt great!
One cool thing that happened to me during one of the meditations was a sense of the complete absence of my body. I was focused on my breathing and I noticed that I had no sensation of anyplace on my body. Not one ache or itch. Nothing was calling for attention. I felt lucky to be having an easier time, physically, than my companions.
Another meditation we did was qigong. He described it as like tai chi, but simpler. I really enjoyed the slow, soothing movements, and could see the meditation benefits once you get used to doing the movements. It's very relaxing. Check it out:
We also did a walking meditation. This was harder for me. You're supposed to focus on your footsteps, walking pretty slowly. But I found it hard to step slowly enough to focus on each step without losing my balance! Instead of thinking "lift-step-place," I ended up thinking "step...step...step..." to make it simpler. Still, it was hard for me to tune out the world and just focus on stepping.
We did two meditations with more of a theme. One was loving kindness, and the other on forgiveness. I found both of these to be very powerful, positive, and healing.
With his direction, again very gentle and nonjudgmental, he guided us to think of someone who is very easy for us to love, someone for whom we have only positive thoughts. And then in your thoughts you tell them "May you be well. May you be healthy. May you be happy. May you be successful." (This whole part of thinking about them and picturing them and feeling your love for them and wishing them well goes on a while. It wasn't just "think of a person you love and wish them well" - BAM - done.) Then we repeated that with a "neutral" person -- someone you don't know very well but you have neither positive nor negative feelings toward. Then we repeated it with someone for whom you harbor some resentment. Then we repeated it with ourselves. What a positive thing to meditate on specific people in our lives and wish them well! To take the time and energy to even wish ourselves well. I think that's a great way to start the day, and then head out into the world with loving kindness in our hearts!
Lastly, we meditated on forgiveness. This is the part that moved me to tears. First we were to think of some situation from the past year that upset us. I picked something recent and specific. Other thoughts crossed my mind, but they were just too overly complicated -- I knew I wouldn't be able to get my mind around them in a half hour meditation. With our leader's guidance, walking us through the event that upset us (and it could be an action or words or lack thereof, whatever the thing was that upset you), we pictured the person's face and the whole scenario. Eventually we got to a point where we pictured telling this person that we forgave them, and they apologized for hurting us. Again, this went on a while, and during all this time of thinking about this one isolated incident, I really did feel forgiveness toward this person, and I saw the whole thing from his point of view and knew that he didn't mean any harm. I felt true forgiveness.
The harder part of the forgiveness meditation was thinking of a situation where you did something wrong and needed to ask for forgiveness. I thought of something with my dad -- something I didn't do but now wish that I had. Immediately tears stung my eyes. You can't do or undo anything once someone you love is gone. You just live with the regret. I had already thought through all those hard feelings after my dad passed away, but it was helpful to meditate on it, to visualize myself telling him, "I'm sorry, Dad...." and to picture him saying, "I forgive you." I know he does. But I guess it still upsets me. I guess it is easier to forgive than to be forgiven.
So that's my whole meditation retreat story. I highly recommend trying something like this if you have the opportunity. I'm planning on looking for some guided meditation CDs. I think I need that guidance. On my own, I'm kind of flailing about, but with a helpful voice guiding me, I get it!