Saturday, January 21, 2012

Unplugged....sort of

Clay form ready to be molded with plaster

Plaster poured into clay forms:
1) will be a hump mold
2) plaster will be the finished sculpture
3) will be a slump-type mold for clay or wax

Clay removed and voila! A hump mold, slump mold, and relief sculpture.

This morning I had breakfast with Buddha. Well, not in the literal sense. I mean, I woke up and laid in bed for eight hours reading the book "Breakfast with Buddha" by Roland Merullo. The timing was quite poignant. See, this past week I decided to take some time to "unplug" from the world: No news, TV, phone calls, email, facebook, etc. Just time to "be". My friend Diane does this sort of homestyle retreat at least once a year for several days. I feel consistently envious. My self-induced hectic life always has a to-do list a mile long with looming deadlines. Though a lover of reading, most of what I read is research oriented to learn something specific. Pleasure reading, like a really good fiction novel, falls low on the priority list. Sad, I know.

So I decided that I would do a 36-hour retreat. I would turn off the phone, talk to no one, read/watch no news (which always gets me riled up), set aside work issues, as well as things that I feel "need" to be done. I started to map out my two precious days of "just me" time. Then it dawned on me that if I were to actually make a plan with time slots for each thing I were to do, then that would be just like any other day. I decided to do something different. I decided to have no plan. I would do, merely, what I felt like doing, when I felt like doing it.

So, today I woke at 6:00 a.m. and reached for "Breakfast with Buddha." While reading, I had breakfast. And tea. And snack. And lunch. I laid in bed the entire time with Bouli and Bello devotedly at my feet, occasionally on my chest, purring loudly to let me know that they liked this new pace and the extra attention. We didn't leave the comforts of the warm silent space (except for food and bathroom) until I finished reading the entire book.

I loved this book. Not only because it was humorous, but because I could relate to the main character. I wish I could say it was Volya Rinpoche that I related to, an enlightened sort, rather, it was Otto, the skeptic who had much to learn.

The book made me ask myself questions like "Why do I find it so hard to meditate?" or "how much money does a person need?" or "when does a person consider themselves rich - materially or spiritually?" and "how much of our lives do we control versus what is fated for us?" "What are the most important things, and how would I live my life if I had no barriers?" All questions I've asked myself before, but since I had all these hours of "unplugged" time, I thought I might as well ponder the answers.

I have tried formal meditation many times, but never felt successful. My mind does not slow down. The most peaceful I get is when I am at the potter's wheel or weaving. I think back to one experience a few years ago when I was at a weekend retreat. I had chosen to attend an afternoon session facilitated by a man that was much like the character Volya Rinpoche. As a non -meditater, I was not prepared for what I was about to partake. It turned out that in this afternoon session we were to sit in silence and not move until we felt moved by something beyond our own something metaphysical, or spiritual; to be like a leaf, that has fallen on the ground. It does not move until a wind comes along and moves it.

Uh oh. Not my idea of fun.

For two hours I sat silent, cross-legged Indian style, not moving one bit, focused on a single nail in the wall. I never did feel moved by spirit to jump up and dance or perform some sort of "be a palm-tree" choreography, as a few others did. (and honestly, I thought they were bullshitting to look cool) Instead, I experienced my entire body falling asleep, except for my mind. My mind was just as active as ever, but when we were to each take a turn at describing our experience, I found that the words did not come out so easy. This was not because I could not think of anything - but instead, it was because even my lips and tongue had fallen asleep. My words came out, to my embarrassing surprise, slurred and nearly inaudible. Hell, what do I mean by nearly? I'm positive that no one understood what I said. I felt like a fool.

It was indeed a strange sensation, and an interesting experience. But I would be lying if I didn't say that I was happy to have the two hour "workshop" behind me. Kudos to those who practice formal meditation. It is harder than it looks!

That memory sparked another. I can say that once in my life I felt that my mind had emptied. It was the most incredible sensation. At another weekend healing arts retreat, I participated in a firewalking workshop. I had done this a few years previous, too, and still, met the current challenge with a certain level of anxiety. Preparation consists of hours of sharing feelings with a group, building a trust, and releasing negative thoughts and anger. To enter the coals with a less than pure heart could mean burnt feet. We were encouraged to think about our intentions and what we hoped to experience or learn. Knowing that my mind always felt cluttered, I focused on one request to the powers that be....that I experience a clear mind, to know what it feels to have no worries.

Despite hours of mental preparation and having walked coals before, I still felt my nerves rise a bit. But it was a magical late summer evening. As we began our walk, flames giving way to glowing orange coals, the lake came to life with the cries of loons. I walked the coals once. Silently. Reverently. Each person took their turn, some more than once. When all were done, silence was broken and those who shared the experience felt a new kinship with one another. Coals were raked until danger of fire subsided and everyone parted to return to their cabins for sleep.

I walked back to my cabin alone, down a tree-lined, heavily rooted path. As I walked, moonlight beaming the way, I felt a lightness - and an emptiness - that is impossible to fully describe. It was like I was walking consciously and knew my way, but my mind was clear. Everything around me became more intense: the moonlight was brighter, the trees greener, taller, the sounds of crickets louder. I could see, feel, hear, sense everything more intensely. I felt no thoughts in my mind except an awareness that I felt empty, peaceful, but incredibly sensitive to the life around me. It was an amazing feeling, floating above ground, like the huge burden of everyday mental ping pong had been lifted. I'll always remember that feeling because of its rareness.

After reading this morning's book, and recalling such intense experiences these two times in my life, I feel an urge to try to recapture these two sensations - one of my mind being alert and detached from my body, and the other sensation of sensing all fully with a mind that is completely cleared. And what of the two could be bridged somehow - would that be the total mind/body experience to the fullest extent?

I am now a mere thirteen hours into my thirty-six hours of unplugged retreat, and well, I kinda feel done with the silence for now. I know it sounds strange, but this taking it slow and easy kinda day has worn me out! After reading, I spent three hours in the cave sculpting and listening to music. I'm kinda missing talking to my husband. The cats look at me when I talk to them, but there is no reciprocation other than a blink or a yawn or a stretch for affection. I have (obviously) given in to the computer and broken my vow of temporary symbolic silence by writing this long blog which will then be posted and the link emailed. Other than that little break in the "plan" to have no plan and be unplugged, all feels good. It's supper time and I look forward to waking tomorrow to do...???? It's the great unknown. I will see what moves that leaf waiting for the wind to blow.


Susan wilder said...

Your words "move me"....

Crafty Green Poet said...

That sounds like a very interesting book and what a wonderful way to read it! I've never done proper meditation, like you i find my most meditative moments are when doing something (crafting or walking in my case).

I'm very interested in what you say about firewalking, not something I've ever done...

Chris told me about your blog so I thought I'd come over and browse!

Anonymous said...

Shanna you made me laugh! I too want to be able to meditate. I really do! But I can not quiet my mind to do so! I recently shared my desire to be able to meditate with my Uncle and how I thought I should take a "beginners" class. He laughed and said "Just quiet your mind". OH but how to do that? Happy quiet thoughts to you! Pam C. NH