fitness · meditation

Catherine’s meditation retreat: stillness, energy, love and hope

Meditation has been good for whatever’s ailed me during the pandemic, and it continues to be so. About 14 months ago, I restarted my off-and-on meditation practice, doing a four-day zoom meditation workshop at my local yoga studio. I wrote about it here and here.

For the general public, meditation has a significant PR problem. But even for those of us who have tried it, meditation can seem serious and heavy– another burden to carry rather than a way to make our lives lighter. Witness this email I got recently:

Recent newsletter from Tricycle: the Buddhist Review. This week's topic: Contemplating your own death. Party on!
Recent newsletter from Tricycle: the Buddhist Review. This week’s topic: Contemplating your own death. Party on!

To be fair, the Tricycle folks cover the waterfront of human experience in their teachings, and other newsletter topics include laughing at our own minds, living the creative life, and cultivating intention, concentration, focus, compassion, etc.

But, staring into the abyss of the truth of existence is a thing that meditation promotes. There’s no way to get around that.

Or is there?

Well, yes and no. Meditation teacher, author and (in his words) meditation-making machine Jeff Warren led a weekend-long meditation workshop called “Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics” (also the title of his co-authored book with Dan Harris) at the Omega Institute near Rhinebeck, NY. I went with my friend Kathy.

It was, well, uh, transforming. Yeah, that.

At this point you may be thinking, uh, what does Catherine mean by “transforming”? Is her life different now? Is she a different person? Did she make contact with the sublime? Is she now dedicating her life to silent contemplation?

Short answers: Yes, yes, yes, and most definitely not.

The oh-so-quotable Inigo Montoya, saying "let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up."
The oh-so-quotable Inigo Montoya, saying “let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.”

This retreat, which was Friday night through Sunday noon, was a mixture of listening to Jeff, sitting with Jeff as he led us through various meditations, and a combo of Q&A and sharing our experiences and struggles with meditation.

Here’s an earlier version of Jeff’s 4-part approach to meditation practice, which he says (and I can attest) translates into life.

Hand-drawn illustration of Jeff Warren's meditation basics, emphasizing concentration, equanimity (acceptance of what is), clarity, and friendliness (now updated to be caring). From his instagram page.
Hand-drawn illustration of Jeff Warren’s meditation basics, emphasizing concentration, equanimity (acceptance of what is), clarity, and friendliness (now updated to be caring). From his instagram page.

After 17 months of all-online-everything, being in the same (very large) room with 100 or so other people (all masked and vaccinated), all being still (or fidgety), all listening to sounds in the room, their own breath and Jeff’s voice– it was overwhelming. I thought I’d be too distracted by all this stimulation to get quiet. I was at first. The first meditation session was, for me, a whirring blender of thoughts and emotions.

But then came Saturday. We did a combo of sitting meditation, individual nature walking meditation, and then one of my favorite meditations that Jeff calls (can you tell I’m kind of fan-girling here?) “Welcome to the party”. It involves becoming aware of any annoying or sad or angry or other parts or thoughts or feelings, and inviting them into your consciousness. Hey there, social anxiety– welcome to the party! Sadness over recent family loss? Welcome to the party! Resentment over not getting promoted at work? Hey there, can I get you something to drink? Have a seat.

You get the idea.

I’ve done this meditation many times, and keep coming back to it. But this time, something different happened. Everything got quiet, even in my mind. Quiet. Stillness. I never ever experience this. I have a serious case of what the Buddhists call “monkey mind”. But not this time, in this room, during this sitting meditation.

I sat, noticing the quiet. I wondered about it, and kept breathing, trying not to attach to it too much (another meditation thing). I figured it would change, as things always do. And it did. Into the quiet space entered something that I can only ineffectively describe as like it was shining, like it was golden, like it was warm, like it was round, and it was like it was inside me.

It was like it was something sublime. And it was good. It was goodness. It was love. Big love.

I noticed this, too, and wondered about it. Then it just filled me– the love/goodness, and I was experiencing that. Okay– just keep breathing, just keep breathing…

To sum up, I had something that was like a transcendent experience. Quiet, energy, love. And when the meditation was over was added a feeling of hope.

Through the rest of the weekend, that experience stayed with me. Not to be repeated, but to be added to my sense of self and sense of the world.

I cannot imagine a better and more unexpected gift. Thank you, Jeff. Thank you Omega Institute. Thank you, Kathy, for sharing the weekend with me. Thank you, universe.

If you’re interested in more information (by this I mean links), here are a bunch of them:

My meditation aid of choice has been the Ten Percent Happier app. You can get 3 months of FREE access to it by clicking here on meditation teacher Jeff Warren’s linktree page, which is also below.

Jeff also runs something called the Do Nothing Project, where they host live youtube Sunday night meditations. You can find them here:

Readers, this was a much harder than my usual blog posts to write. It’s about stillness, not movement. It’s about changes to my inner self, not outer self. It’s personal in a way I’m not used to being personal. But I wanted to share this with you. Why? Because I want you to know that such things happen, and that they happen to people you know or know-in-a-way. And, if you’re thinking about bringing a little more intentional quiet into your life, maybe reading this will support you in moving in that direction.

If you’d like to share or ask questions or anything, I’m here and will listen and respond.

6 thoughts on “Catherine’s meditation retreat: stillness, energy, love and hope

  1. Beautifully written. Thank you so much for putting your experience into words and sharing them!

  2. I love that so much. Meditation is such a personal thing and hearing about other people’s experiences with it makes me so happy and happy for them. It sounds as if you had an incredible weekend. Thanks for writing about it and linking to some of the resources. Here’s to the sublime and transcendent!

  3. I’m so glad you got to experience this. Jeff has been my meditation teacher for over a decade (yes, I knew him when! I am so so lucky). It’s big deep and transformative. I send you quiet sitting-connection. Hugs.

    1. I’m both delighted and not at all surprised that you and Jeff know each other. Hugs to you.

  4. That is beautiful
    I feel like my whole life is mediation. I do try to take time to sit quietly, and sometime practice physical asanas. But the rest has permeated my life and it makes me happy and content when I notice it…which I do over and over because I get distracted!

    When I first went to yoga the second sutra, yoga stills the fluctuations and chatter of the mind, seemed impossible. Like you, I know it’s absolutely possible.

    Stillness and peace

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