This week I returned from 30 days of volunteering at a meditation retreat in the Rockies.
At times it felt that my heart was replaced by an insatiable hole.
I imagined packing my bags and leaving not long after I arrived.
This was not the blissful, om shanti, cucumber water, chenille-robe getaway that people seem to imagine with the words, “meditation retreat.” It was a kick-your-ass, look-at-your-shit, wanna-be-anywhere-else marathon.
My favorite illusions shattered. You know, the ones that seem to make life worth living: “Maybe he’s the one.” “We’ll have all the things.” “The places we’ll go!” “I’m finally done being alone.”
Under the weight of reality they crumbled like torched Hershey Kisses. No manner of creative negotiating supported their reformation. I tried, oh, how I tried–carefully corralling the dust before it took flight in the frigid air. With snot and tears I pasted these dreams back into shape, but they never tasted the same mixed with the sadness of my new knowing.
Right behind the illusions, waiting to pounce like hungry lions were fears: “I’m not loveable.” “There’s something wrong with me.” “Maybe if I were prettier.” “I will be alone forever … ”
Some nights my “alone” was so palpable its aching hungry hollow would not allow for sleep. I wrestled with it. I hated it. I begged to stop feeling. My only salvation was acceptance, to dive head first into the vast sea of yearning and ride those waves.
Still, I wanted something else every minute of every day. I wanted to be held, understood, accepted and loved, and I wanted it from someone who was NOT me.
When it all became too much, my morphine was movement. In my room I danced to Beyonce, Kendrick Lamar and Lil’ Wayne. I sang, and I didn’t care who might hear in this place of silence. I rolled on the ground. I twirled and slapped my ass. I felt sexy.
And, I ate A LOT of chocolate.
Eager for the hugging fog of home and an understanding ear, I counted the days until departure.
Even with the hardships I wondered, would it be difficult to leave? I’d made friends. We’d shared laughs. I’d adopted new routines.
It was not hard.
For all the tears I shed not one fell while driving away in a loaded down pick up with two thankfully chatty new friends. It was relief with each passing mile.
Was it worth it? Would I do it again? Did I learn anything?
Beyond the heartbreak the phenomenal world offered magic and perspective.
On clear evenings the stars sprinkled across the sky like granules from an overturned saltshaker, so dazzling one could not be troubled to find constellations.
Snow fell like popcorn balls and pillow-fight feathers. Teeny flakes found their way to my scarves and lashes, and I marveled at the unique perfection of each one.
Cold and juniper crawled up my pants and down my boots as I waded through banks to climb to the tops of things and triumphantly look down.
Sure, I wish events that transpired had not. I wish I could report on an entirely different transformative experience, but what I didn’t want was perhaps exactly what I needed. Thank you, Mick Jagger.
My 30 days of isolation, loss and loneliness lead me to myself. I was all I had. I met the me who can feel “incomplete,” “not enough,” and “unattractive” and not conspire to make those shameful feelings go away. This me is kind, understanding and gently reminds me, “it’s human to feel this way sometimes. Feel it fully and remember it’s all malarkey.”
I saw how fiercely I can love. How I can hang with myself in the sad, dark uncomfortable places and not be afraid. The retreat led me to my own warm embrace. How strong and nurturing I can be—how truly not alone.