I did it. After years of contemplating whether or not to attend a meditation retreat, I took the plunge into the unknown and signed up for a 7 Day Advanced Meditation Retreat with Dr. Joe Dispenza and the Encephalon Team. Those of you who know me, have heard I've been studying Dr. Joe's material for the last handful of years. Even though I resonated with his material, I continued to combine his suggestions with many other modalities, trying to blend various techniques. I was curious to learn as much as I could. I believed the more techniques I knew, the more effective I could be at helping others who wanted a meditation practice that would fit their lifestyle. But, time and time again, students who committed to a 5-20 minute hybrid meditation practice, one that felt "right" for them, lost their consistency and turned back to behaviors that derailed their practice. I wanted to know why. How could a practice that provided relaxation, clarity, and some recognizable, positive change, be neglected so easily?
Around a year ago, I devoted myself solely to understanding how the mind works and look at the reasons why our habits can sabotage our best intentions. I read studies by Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson, listened to lectures on Epigenetics, and scoured books about addictions, behavioral science, neuroplasticity, and meditation changing the brain. I consistently returned to Dr. Joe's material and decided to focus my practice on using his longer guided meditations. And that's when something shifted.
By late August, I was meditating twice a day, with an hour in the morning and and hour at night. Each time I got up from my chair or cushion, I felt more connected with everything in and around me. I had a perpetual smile on my face and this interesting dichotomous sense of lightness and fullness at the same time. Sometimes, after practice, I would step out of my room and search the house for someone to hug. I wanted to share this incredible loving feeling that I seemed to find by the end of each meditation.
Life continued - some parts seemed smoother; others fell apart. I was confronted with truths that were challenging to face and I had to make a very painful decision to end a 20 year marriage. But, throughout it all, I felt supported by something much larger than my analytical mind.
But, then, at some point in the winter, I began to perceive the stresses of my life to be more important than my freedom. I let my morning practice slide into a sporadic 20 minute centering practice and I rarely returned to my evening practice. My analytical mind justified this old behavior by listing out reasons: "My teaching schedule is busier, I need my sleep, I'm stressed, and I can't find more hours in the day to do everything that needs to get done."
Why in the world would I choose to neglect a practice that helped immensely, resorting back to habits that perpetuated more stress and feelings of lack? Well, in a nutshell, it's the way in which our brains naturally operate. Whatever saturates our day-to-day moments takes center-stage in our meaning-making mind. I knew well enough that when I began to feel victimized by the life I created, I was perceiving from a place of incoherency. I needed to refocus on what I deemed important in my life. Meditation had to be put first on that list of things to do.
I spontaneously registered and paid for my week long meditation adventure while sitting in a coffee shop with a friend. It was a true jump into the unknown. I didn't even look at the accommodations. I knew I would be there to submerse myself in my practice and that's all that mattered.
Day one, we meditated for 2.5 hours multiple times morning until evening. I relied on my try-harder approach to help me fall into a familiar feeling that accompanied most of my practices. By day two, Dr. Joe's words kept ringing in my head between sessions, "Let go and surrender." What did that mean exactly? The teacher side of me wanted to figure out this concept. How do I let go? What if I feel nothing? Is there a special technique that can help me surrender quickly? How will I know if I'm doing it correctly? In the middle of the second day, I had a clear vision of me standing in front of this gigantic glass wall that looked like a television screen with static on it. I put my hands against the glass and I knew someone or something was on the other side wanting to communicate. I began searching for ways for us to bypass the static and hear one another. Then I was jolted with an inner knowing and something beyond my thinking mind that stated, "This static is the effort you keep putting forth. Stop trying so hard and you will know me."
Tears ran down my face yet I stayed in the moment. That practice changed everything. We came back for our evening session and once again began with our awareness in the heart center. This time, I didn't have to strive for anything. I just put my awareness in my heart space. I wasn't looking for anything. I wasn't trying to feel a descriptive experience. I just paid attention and remained aware. The love that came through me, surrounding me, moving me was bigger than anything I had felt in my home practices. I was learning what trust and surrender really felt like. And I got to practice this for the rest of the week.
The day after returning home, I was eager to jump out of bed at 5:00 in the morning and practice. Instead of starting with my usual routine, I put my focus on my heart center and let it show me its infinite depth. The only words that come close to explaining this are "falling in love." I start my day in love with the unknown - not in a thinking way; but, instead, from a place of showing up and letting go. I fall away from analysis and object-centered thinking. I trust in something more expansive than my known experiences. It doesn't make "sense." It just is. Once I'm submersed in this, I move into whatever part of the practice I'm called to do next: focusing on my energy centers, sending loving-kindness to others, breath practice, etc. But it starts with the heart.
In the middle of my day, I return to this heart-centered focus. And I end my day with it as well. Meditation practice is no longer about getting to a place of feeling connected and loved. It BEGINS from love. Even when I'm responding and perceiving my circumstances as difficult, challenging, or stressful, I can pause and drop into the awareness of my heart. But this takes consistent practice! I equivocate it to exercise or learning a craft/sport/instrument. I can't rely on one week's worth of practice or one workshop, or reading one book to carry me through. I need to keep my awareness focused and practice daily. If I find myself waning, then I surround myself with experiences, people, and classes that ignite the fire again.
So, are you ready to start with the heart? Let's talk. I'd love to hear about your practice. If you don't have a meditation practice yet, I'm here for you. Reach out and let's see what transpires when we begin from an open-hearted place.