Excruciating, and Wonderful – A Meditation Student’s Description

A few weeks ago, as people were arriving for a 9-week meditation workshop I’m leading, a handful of students started telling their classmates that they were both nervous and excited about joining me at an upcoming 5-day meditation retreat I was getting ready to offer in Romney, WV.

More specifically, those who were new to retreat were asking those who had done it before what they might expect.

Suddenly, the whole room became silent, and one student answered, “It’s excruciating,” – which prompted an explosion of laughter, and I’m guessing even more nervousness!

When the laughter had died down, this same student added, “And … it’s wonderful.”

And I thought: just perfect; exactly – it can really be both.

But here’s the thing: the hard part isn’t usually about any arduous logistical difficulties – we’re almost always retreating in a beautiful, quiet setting in nature, and offered comfortable beds, hot meals, and warm showers. Plus, we’re given the opportunity to spend ample time with ourselves in the silence, and asked to set down all the distractions that come with our lengthy “to-do” lists, relationships, and even our phones.

And yet, this is often exactly why it can sometimes feel difficult, or even “excruciating.”

Because at some point during retreat, it suddenly dawns on us that we can’t escape ourselves. In the silence, we find ourselves faced very intimately with our own thoughts, judgments, and opinions – along with all those pesky emotions that we may have been avoiding, too.

And this is also just perfect – because being willing to sit, or “stay” with these difficult thoughts, judgments, and feelings is essentially what our meditation practice is urging us to do.

The beauty of this is that, when we can train ourselves to not look away, and to bravely confront and investigate all those things that we’ve been avoiding, or distracting ourselves from – this is the time when retreat can suddenly become “wonderful.”

In fact, more than wonderful:

After each retreat ends, almost every student I speak with seems to be glowing with emotion and gratitude as they recall what they’ve discovered about themselves in the silence, and along with “wonderful,” tend to offer words like “life-changing,” “transformative,” and simply, “I have no words.”

Regularly, people tell me that their hearts have opened “like a dam breaking,” and that they feel like something fundamental has forever shifted in them – all due to their own willingness to stay with themselves, and their hearts, when at times it felt difficult.

So, if you’ve never been on a meditation retreat before, please know that it’s truly a mix: there can absolutely be times of intense peace, gratitude, and joy … alongside times of grief, frustration, and sadness … and, in the end, a sense of incredible release, relief, and growth.

I hope you might join me! 🙏🏽💕