Permission to Relax; Permission to Enjoy

It’s a week since now since the meditation retreat at the Abbey. I’m still not sure what to write, oddly. I learned so much and had such a good time, getting to know wonderful people better and meeting new ones, and it set up a host of new questions: can I mainstream meditation into my life indefinitely? Am I doing this right? When the strength of the change which is currently arising wears off – what then? Given that the success of the practice and the personal development which ideally results is entirely down to self-assessment, how good is my judgment about my character? Am I humble enough? And I’ve spent so long hating life, misusing coping mechanisms which weren’t even mine, how can I possibly give myself permission to relax, permission to enjoy?!

There are no black and white answers. I’m already learning not to hunt for the easy, high-edged feelings (amongst which is the sexual, which is beginning to confuse me) in order to bounce through life. And although meditation does create very big highs and deals with very big lows, I’m slowly getting to grips with what Alistair calls the ‘dull, dribbly (everyday) mind’ – just keeping the gears of my mind moving in a more skilfull way than not. It’s been very hard this week, but my earlier post about the ‘weather’ came out of this weekend and has proven to be entirely right. So what could the weekend actually deliver? A risk of evangelical zeal? I’ve been there before on retreat weekends (although not meditation retreats), and ended up only with disappointment and disillusionment.

This weekend actually confronted that point head on. We had the chance to indulge at our leisure in practising the four fields of mindfulness, which at their core deal with the stability of our bodies in the face of constantly changing thoughts, emotions and perceptions. People do fail, they will let you down, life is not about an idealised world which you can create on the mediation cushion. And working mostly outside, Alistair really drilled that into us in a practical way. I started out with such scepticism, but getting to learn how merely walking on the grass felt – what muscles do what, what bones do what, which micro adjustments the body constantly makes – I realised just how many more opportunities there were available to enjoy being me, to enjoy being in this body. My past has been so dictated by believing my thoughts and ignoring my feelings, it was a delight to have a broad, leisurely look at what’s really on offer from life.

Alistair Appleton

Alistair‘s (above) weekend was about relaxation and enjoyment, and giving yourself permission to do both. And we broadly experienced them in just walking without an end point, indulging in the sensations of movement. It meant eating and only enjoying the tastes. It meant enjoying the interweaving of emotions, memories and physical senses. It meant having a controlled space to think ridiculousness and random garbage in. Up on Saturday into the blissful excitement of the new, down on Sunday into keeping it real. I have a lot to be thankful for from this time and will always be grateful to Alistair and my fellow meditators for the next step along on this road.

Life has become a place of curiosity and exploration, not a constant top of up of gratification. I’m learning to find where my emotions place themselves in/on my body (with great difficulty, but I’m starting to at least access them with some clarity). I’m learning to go into my body immediately (preferably through physical training, where I know I don’t feel anything concrete or think many random thoughts at all) when I feel unhappy. Approaching life with curiosity and a skilful mind is feeling real when nothing ever really has before. I may be a novice, but as with photography, I’m becoming intensely proud of the times I ‘get it’, and intrigued about how to do it more successfully or fruitfully when I don’t. Mum would be proud of this, Dad sure seems to be.

Oh and before you think this was a solemn affair all weekend, think again. The laughter which reigned throughout Alistair’s ‘Hat Game’ suggested otherwise, immeasurably encouraged by his knowing just when being ‘the teacher’ starts and when it stops…:)

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