A Purple Heart for a Meditation Retreat

Photo: three yoginis seated in meditation at Thrive Yoga, Rockville
Stillness comes to the mind

Yesterday, I went to Buddha and the Body retreat organized by Jonathan Foust from the Insight Meditation Community of Washington (IMCW) in a rented basement of a Northern Virginia church. Life has been so hectic over the past six-nine months, I’ve stopped attending the Wednesday evening IMCW session with Tara Brach, and not been able to find a more convenient time slot to engage in group meditation. I figured that I could cram my meditation requirement into an intensive day-long session (9:30-5:00, with several breaks).

What I did not count on was the physical beating that my body would take from being seated in easy pose for much of the day. Because my hips have opened up over the past year, I decided to bring my zafu cushion and sit on a yoga mat, rather than be a wimp stilling on a chair. What was deceptive was that I felt extremely comfortable seated in easy pose, propped up on a folded blanket and my cushion, and could keep my spine poised vertically over my hips with ease. Both legs (thighs, knees and calves) were resting on the ground (my right left tends to rise). But I did not realize how grueling the experience would be. My muscles were not used to sustaining the pose for hour after hour (with breaks, of course), especially in the deepest reaches of my core muscles. In previous extended sessions of easy pose,  I found myself slumping over and tilting the hips back, being unable to hold the arch in the small of my back, which was a clear alert to shift to a different posture or seating arrangement.

All this fatigue crept up on me. After the lunch break, I noticed that it became harder and harder to keep my mind focused on meditation. I was so numb and fatigued that I could not identify where the problem was. Even when we were laying down, I could not keep my mind on target. I felt as if I was just skimming over the surface of my mind. If there had been symptoms, such as leg cramps or going to sleep, I could have identified it and changed my sitting posture.

After the retreat finished, I took the long Metro ride home from Ballston, Virginia. It seemed to take ages (more like 90 minutes, with a transfer at Metro Center, thanks to the slower Saturday train schedule). I had dinner, took the dogs for a walk, and then took stock of my body: I realized that I was extremely exhausted, even though I did not have any sore muscles,. I hit the bed and did not regain consciousness until 7:00 the next morning. Once I was back on my feet, I could tell that my hips and associated muscles had the post-exertion ache of being pushed beyond standard limits.

Of course, I should really be talking about Jonathan Foust’s dynamic meditation method and the impact of the meditation itself, but it will have to come in another entry.