I did hard things last weekend.I put myself in an unfamiliar and uncomfortable situation with no idea of what to expect or how I’d fare so far outside my comfort zone.
When I signed up for a three-day silent meditation retreat with Refuge Recovery, I was just wanting some me-time to reflect and reset. The thought of being in silence for a couple of days and camping on a mountaintop overlooking Crabtree Mountain sounded like a dream. I figured I’d come away from it with a more centered heart and mind and more completed pages for my novel. Hell, maybe I’d even lose a few of these pounds I’ve gained back this year with so much hiking.
I did come home with a more centered heart and mind and I did come home feeling stronger and healthier from all the mountain climbing and meditation at Aramesh Retreat. I also came home feeling proud of how I showed up for myself even during the uncomfortable moments. I didn’t get frustrated with the constant rain, or the mud or my inability to be completely still during a 30-minute seated meditation. I didn’t get mad at the pain in my knee or my sore calf muscles. I didn’t whine about having to get up at 6 a.m.
I just accepted that all those challenges and fears were part of the retreat, a part of trying to heal and not be so reactionary to every little thing that doesn’t meet my expectations. That was such a big lesson Refuge Recovery founder Noah Levine tried to instill in all 50 of us at the retreat.
“If we’re addicted to anything, we’re addicted to our minds,” he said.
Sometimes it even feels like our mind is invested in our unhappiness because it offers us such bad advice, he said.
It’s so true! How often does your mind tell you you’re not good enough, strong enough, smart enough? My mind tells me “You deserve to have a few beers after such a hard day” or “You only live once, eat the box of cookies.”
Levine shared a story of Buddha dealing with the same monkey mind thoughts that we all deal with on a daily basis. As the story goes, just before Buddha reached enlightenment, he was attacked by the demon god Mara who filled his mind with thoughts of lust, anger, greed and doubt. But instead of resisting Mara and trying to push the demon god out of his mind, he simply invited them in and acknowledged their presence with a simple phrase: “I see you, Mara.” And after a short visit, Mara left.
The same is true about our intrusive, unpleasant thoughts. If we can stop resisting them, invite them in with a little compassion, they will soon depart on their own without us suffering and trying in vain to fight them off.
We practiced this with sitting and walking meditations throughout the weekend. Nothing will bring Mara out like sitting in silence with your own mind for 30 minutes or climbing up a mountain three times a day after every meal. I followed my breath, I repeated the affirmations given, but nothing can stop the mind from wandering. I fidgeted, I cried, I got uncomfortable - and that’s OK. It’s part of the practice and it gets easier to sit with Mara through the discomfort, understanding those unpleasant thoughts are just part of the human condition. Just as our hearts beat on their own and just like our lungs breathe on their own, our minds will think on their own, Levine says.
I guess I knew these things on some level, but somehow the message just hit me differently this past weekend when I had nothing else to do but be faced with my own behaviors and how they contradict the path I’m on and where I want to be in my life. I know deep down alcohol, food, shopping, obsessing and trying to control others’ actions does nothing but deplete me. And it’s never enough, the cravings don’t go away no matter how many times I give into them.
I know alcohol and addiction run deep in my family on both sides and have caused nothing but misery for the people I love the most. I know my parents are who they are because of their parents’ addictions and my siblings and I are who we are because of our parents’ addictions. Someone has to be able to stop handing down this trauma and suffering.
I laid in my muggy tent listening to the rain pelting down on the last night of the retreat. My mind ran wild with worry. “Are you really thinking about trying to live without alcohol and drugs? You’re kidding yourself if you think you can do that forever. It’s crazy, it’s unrealistic. You’re not even an alcoholic. You’re not a drug addict. What are you trying to prove? You’re setting yourself up for failure. That’s a lot of pressure. Why even try?”
It wasn’t until the closing ceremony on Monday morning when we all gathered together in a circle and shared our experiences of the weekend that I convinced myself that we are gonna give it a try. What’s the worst that could happen? I could fail, but then I could also try again. On the other hand, I could find that the happiness and peace I’m always seeking comes from being mindful and fully present and not from numbing myself with food and stimulants.
I looked around the room. I could see those who were feeling the same way as me — suffering and unsure a better path could exist. I could see the look of hope on the faces of those who were ready to commit or recommit to their recovery and I could see ease and joy in the eyes of those who were months, years and decades into their recovery.
I asked myself where I wanted to be six months from now. I decided to trust that the work I’ve done on myself the last few years brought me to that mountain top for a reason. Onward to a new kind of adventure.
I’m so thankful for finding Refuge Recovery. I am thankful for Noah leading us on the journey last weekend and being so accessible, relatable and inspirational during the retreat.
I’m thankful for Jill and Faramarz Hidaji for sharing the beauty of their mountain property - Aramesh Retreat - with Refuge Recovery and for making sure we were all taken care of during the weekend. I know our paths will continue to cross.
I’m thankful for every person I met on this retreat who came from all over the country to share their story and this experience with me. I hope we can stay connected through online and in-person meetings until we can meet again at the next retreat.
If you’re interested in learning more about Refuge Recovery, visit Refugerecovery.org to learn more. You can also search for online or in-person meetings in your area. The Asheville chapter meets at 1:30 p.m. Sundays at the North Asheville Community Center, 37 E. Larchmont Rd.
All are welcome.