Today's post will likely be Chapter One in the memoir that I am currently writing.
Part of this story includes my first experience with meditation and how simplicity and nature helped me on my path of self-discovery.
Hope you'll consider joining me for a meditation class.
I had created a mess in my life that played out for about three years. I could tell you the convoluted story the old me used to spin to justify my actions, but to keep it honest and simple, my behavior was selfish and inexcusable. Going back and forth between two men, professing my love to each, robbed both of the choice to make informed decisions about our relationships. I would tell myself that it was to avoid hurting them, but that was a lie, too; my real motive was to protect myself from being abandoned. At the time it seemed like I was trapped in a cycle that I couldn't control. Now, it’s clear that my thoughts were utterly consumed with trying to control every angle of the situation.
Aside from this situation, my life seemed normal and happy, easy even, and I rocked along on an even keel. There were no real highs or lows. Everything was good except for the fact that the perfect man for me was contained in two bodies.
PLANNING THE GETAWAY
Desperate to end the confusion and suffering, I decided to go away for a while and began searching for a “spiritual retreat center.” A friend suggested Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY because they offer many interesting workshops, experiences, and time for rest and relaxation. After finding time in my schedule to travel and reading through Omega’s catalog, a five-week itinerary began to take shape. There were a few things that caused hesitation during the planning process, like discovering that a campus-wide silent retreat fell in the middle of my itinerary. Calling a reservation specialist, I learned that participation was required to remain on campus. Are you kidding me? A seven-day silent retreat? That sounds horrific.
Fortunately, all the little hiccups didn't come at once or it might have dissuaded me from taking the leap. I discovered that the food would be vegetarian, and I am a meat eater; the cell phone service only worked in the parking lot; the campus was alcohol free; my room would be furnished only with a twin bed, a folding chair, and possibly a hook on the wall; and internet was only available in the cafe. I was leaving civilization. Each time unwanted news presented, my constitution was strong. I'm still going.
Before the retreat was to begin, my daughter Kelcie, who was in school in Manhattan, and I flew from our home in Memphis to New York and we spent a few days together in the city. Along with her roommate we all went to Port Authority bus terminal on a Sunday. Filled with nervous anticipation and excitement, I climbed aboard a charter bus that would carry me to my home for the next five weeks. Lots of little questions ran through my mind. How am I going to manage the dining hall on my own without a friend? Where will I sit? What will the people be like? What adventure am I embarking on? Yikes!
tHE fIVE-WEEK RETREAT - Week One
Those of us aboard the bus arrived in the rain and were covered in leaf sized garbage bags, sent across the parking lot to registration, and directed to the dining hall for dinner. It was a bit surreal. On the way to the dining hall I met my first friend, Joanie, who offered to share her umbrella. Eating dinner together on the porch in the pouring rain reminded me of arriving at summer camp in North Carolina. After dinner we attended orientation, then made our way up the hill with our flashlights to find our dorm rooms. My luggage and the boxes that I shipped from Tennessee were sitting on the front porch of my cabin. By 11:00 p.m., I had unpacked, settled into my little six-by-eight-foot room, and crawled into my bed for my first night of sleep.
The morning brought more moist and cloudy weather and the beginning of a full week of technical drawing in the Drawing from the Right Side of the Brain workshop. The perfectionist in me was very critical of my drawings and struggled to enjoy the tedious process of rendering with such precision. The group of all female artists in attendance covered a wide range of skill levels, and my abilities fell somewhere in the middle. A close friendship within the group evolved quickly and helped me to feel very comfortable at Omega -- we traversed the campus together, sharing meals, conversations, and new experiences.
Outside of the drawing workshop there were a lot of interesting people to meet who were attending a variety of workshops. Meals were lively with conversation, but I felt uptight and shut down, unable to express myself freely within the group. Nevertheless, my horizons were being expanded through exposure to many new thoughts and practices -- remote viewing, cellular healing, shamanic practices, and energy work to name a few. In this first week my mantra became, “I am in the right place at the right time and I will know why I came here when I leave.” This belief statement was comforting, except for the times when self-doubt crept in and caused more anxiety.
After a busy and social first week, I decided to take a step back from so much activity and begin the serious work of being on retreat. After all, finding clarity around my relationship dilemma was my goal, and this was not a vacation. Next on my itinerary was Insight Meditation and Yoga, which could more accurately be described as mediation boot camp. Each day there were five long meditative periods and two yoga sessions, which had me nearly coming out of my skin. Walking meditation was particularly frustrating -- the slow pace of the other walkers and their failure to follow instructions triggered me and brought out my controlling and bossy nature. Seeing this unattractive quality in myself, brought forth tears of regret, shame, discomfort and blessed self-awareness.
After three days of fidgeting, I abandoned the meditation hall and went the lake. Having made the choice early in the week to not engage in campus life, there was a disconnect between me and the other yogis. Disassociation wasn’t unfamiliar but feeling invisible was beginning to create an ache in my heart. My insecurities were holding me back, making me believe that people didn’t really like me, and causing me to refrain from expressing myself without modifying every word.
With no friends or workshop to attend, my chosen distraction became exchanging emails with the men and others back home. Solitude was agitating. Maybe I created chaos and confusion in my life because it was more comfortable than stillness.
After floundering around at Omega for twelve days, seeking guidance from a practitioner at the Wellness Center seemed in order. The message that the intuitive reader shared was about the purpose of my retreat — to step into my power and return to a more authentic self. She emphasized, “This time away is for you. Disconnect from home and don’t worry about any unfinished business there.”
Morning walks became a part of my routine, and I started noticing the vibrantly colored fall leaves on the ground, collecting them, and bringing them back to my room. My time at Omega was giving me an appreciation for simplicity, and connecting with nature helped to ground me. I was settling in, discovering myself, and finding my center.
cENTERING INTO OMEGA
taking a piece of charcoal, and rubbing it gently over the paper and article. By doing this process with both the large and small leaves, an impression of their ridges and veins were revealed. The immediate result was a big, smeary mess, which took hours to clean it up through erasure and addition of detail. The process was cumbersome, but the final product made it worthwhile.
This drawing is a reminder of the pleasure found in simplicity. The joy uncovered in the gathering of fall leaves and creating a basic composition. The sketch serves as a reminder of my center—a center that I was discovering at Omega and would struggle to hang on to when I returned home to Tennessee.
We are excited to offer a meditation class series to the Memphis community. We hope that you will join us some time soon as a part of your journey of self-exploration.
We also offer a book discussion group of In Search of the Miraculous: Healing into Consciousness annually in February and March. See our Events and Class Series Calendar for dates and times.
Madeleine Newkirk, Artist, Spiritual Junkie, Dalian Method and Art Process Facilitator.