Monday, May 31, 2010

The Calm and the Chaos: meditating and packing

So I meditated.  Silently.  A lot.  For ten full days to be specific, at the Illinois Vipassana Meditation Center.  There are a lot of impressions and thoughts still swirling about the experience. Most overwhelmingly, I’m glad I did it – this has been a personal goal for a while, so in addition to the benefits of the meditation there is also a sense of accomplishment.  It was hard, definitely.  Just sitting in meditation for 11 hours a day was a huge hurdle, physically and mentally.  (I renamed the 3 daily “Sits of Great Determination”, during which one strives to not move a muscle, to the Sit of Great Delight, the Sit of Great Distraction, and the Sit of Great Despair.  This was only partially tongue in cheek.)

The time alone with the mind was also an emotional roller coaster, both enlightening and eerie…it doesn’t take long for the constant swirl of the unconscious to start rising to the surface.  Yet it was also empowering, at least after I finally started letting go around day 3.  And it was incredibly liberating to turn off the cell phone, leave the email, and embrace being unreachable.

Then there were the funny moments: without the aid of verbal communication, ordinary situations easily become hilariously awkward.  Take for example the time I accidentally wacked a guy in the head while putting on a sweater.  It turns out he sat next to me in the meditation hall, so I had a full 7 days to sit with my guilt after the incident before the silence was broken and I could apologize.

Overall, the experience definitely helped calm me before diving into the pre-departure chaos that awaited me, and at least for the time being I feel more ready to confront the unexpected with equanimity, patience, and compassion.  Of course, I haven’t meditated once since my return, and it’s unlikely I’ll ever achieve the recommended 2 hours daily.  But I did reach some minor epiphanies, and even if the goal of meditation is to clear the mind rather than to have time to think, those epiphanies are already making subtle impacts.

It is definitely an experience I want to repeat.  Ultimately, Chicago provided me the luxury of time to pursue several interests intensively.  I won’t be able to continue practicing Mysore Yoga 3 or 4 days a week either, but there is space somewhere for both these activities in a balanced life.  (My third Chicago activity of making bread, cheese, yogurt, beer, and the like from scratch seems to be in no risk of being neglected in Moldova; quite the contrary, I’m looking forward to learning to make wine!)  Finding that balance is certain to be one of the most difficult parts of my service, but the time to reflect during the retreat has already given me a better footing.

Having achieved great calm, I abruptly plunged back into the real world 3 weeks ago and confronted my pre-departure chaos.  Stage One: a 2 week sleepless operation to leave Chicago. Check!  Turning over the keys to an empty apartment, however, seemed a lot more monumental a week ago, before I started preparing to actually leave the country for 2 years.

Stage two was a road trip from Chicago back to Denver, but that’s another story.  Now I’ve got just one last week before leaving.  A week to decide what I’m actually taking with me.  A week to finish a public rollout for the non-profit I co-founded (Vitality In Action Foundation, check it out!).  A week to put my material life in deep storage.  At least I’ve done this before…Hungary was a very helpful test-run of the entire operation (minus the non-profit).

Present packing conundrum: my skis.  Suggestions are welcome, particularly from other PCVs.  (Please note, the difficulty is figuring out the logistics of how to take them, not a question of whether or not they’re coming).

So, back to packing, and we’ll see what gets left behind when I leave for staging in Philly a week from today!


Jessica said...

I'm excited you are back to blogging. I will be a loyal reader.

Lauren said...

You sound strong. I am super proud and excited for you. Super proud.

Mattbl said...

After reading you blog I have NO idea how I was selected to join you on our little adventure because I feel like a 3rd grader next to you! But I look forward to meeting you in 6 or 7 days!

Clark said...

It was intense, I'm sure. You should try to fit some meditation in between the Hungarian lessons and the grape stomping.