Earlier this month I found myself in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts for what I thought would be a weekend of yoga and good vegan food. My friend Jenn had told me about this weekend-long spiritual retreat with Gabby Bernstein, our generation’s spiritual leader, called Amplify Your Intuition. It was set in the well-known Kripalu Yoga Center, on a sprawling plot of land offering hiking trails, a swimming lake, and fresh, smog-less air.
When she asked if I’d be interested, I thought, “Hey sure, I like yoga. Why not?”
I was excited for the opportunity to spend a weekend relaxing, practicing arm balances, and catching up with a friend. But to be honest, I was a little bit skeptical about Gabrielle Bernstein and whether or not I would get any value out of her program. I couldn’t tell if she was just another social media presence, milking her notoriety and using it as a means of selling lots of books and making lots of money.
But on that first day, when I walked into the room where the seminar was being held, I saw Gabby sitting on a bench up front, and she just looked so peaceful. When she spoke, it was with such precision, and such heart. It became clear to me very quickly that this chick was the real deal.
She’s such an open book, and she’s not afraid to tell us about the moments where she, as she calls it, “chooses fear over love.” Every once in a while, in the middle of speaking about non-judgement or living in the present, out squeaks a “fuck” or a “hell no.” And that is why we all love Gabby Bernstein.
She’s us. Just without all the chaos.
Throughout the course of the weekend I learn a lot about myself, and about how I had recently begun approaching things that I didn’t agree with, things that made me uncomfortable. I realize I’ve started to become defensive and, almost, aggressive in my convictions. While I don’t necessarily think it’s bad to voice your opinions or stand up for what you think is right, you can’t shove them down people’s throats. I was becoming far too judgmental of those around me who didn’t share my same ideals, and it was tainting my experiences with them.
Fast forward a week and a half after getting back from Kripalu.
I decide to finally check out this donation-based group meditation that I found online through Dharma Punx. I’d been meaning to go to one of their classes for months, but would always pull some new excuse out of the book for why it wasn’t going to fit into my schedule that particular day.
I walk up to Lila Wellness Center at 302 Bowery Street and notice a somewhat haggard looking middle-aged man hovering near the door. First, I turn around and check Google Maps to make sure I’m in the right place.
302 Bowery. Looks like this is it. I walk back up to the door and ring the buzzer for Suite 2, and the man asks “Are you here for the meditation?”
“Yeah, I am.”
“Cool, me too… This doesn’t cost anything does it?”
“It’s donation based.”
“Damn, I don’t have any cash on me. They’re not going to, like, kill me for not donating, are they?”
“I don’t think so, they’re Buddhist.”
I hear myself being buzzed in and hasten up the two flights of stairs to what looks like your typical New York City apartment building. I remove my (vegan) Birkenstocks (how Buddhist of me) and enter the large, open hardwood studio and grab a meditation pillow. There are a group of about ten people sitting quietly in a circle.
After nestling myself Indian-style on top of my poof pillow, the group facilitator introduces himself, says a brief thank you for showing up, and quickly invites us into a 40 minute meditation.
Now this is out of my comfort zone. I don’t have Gabby here guiding me through visualization techniques, teaching me yogic chants, or intercepting with stories of non-judgement and forgiveness.
This was just 40 minutes of complete silence. I haven’t sat in silence for 40 minutes since, well, probably before I could speak.
I manage to quiet my mind for the first 10-15 minutes or so (in reality, it easily could have been more like 7). Then my leg starts to fall asleep. I switch my legs so now my left is on top of the right one, instead of the other way around.
Ahhh, much better.
A few more minutes of stillness.
Now this one is falling asleep.
Rearrange position of legs again.
How do these people’s legs not fall asleep sitting like this?
Peek one eye open for a second, to see if anyone else is shifting their bodies around, as well. Nope. Just me.
Ok, breathe in-2-3-4. Out 2-3-4. In 2-3-4. Out 2-3-4.
Seriously, this cannot be good for my circulation!
Shift again. Water bottle spills, creating an obnoxiously loud, echo throughout the hardwood studio.
Universe: Sit. The Fuck. Still.
Me: …..Sorry Universe.
After what seems like forever, the facilitator brings us back to the real world and delves into a little tale of his last weekend at a meditation retreat in the Berkshires. The 5 year old inside of me wants to raise my hand in the air and go “Me too! Me too!” I relent, let him finish his story, and then we go around in a circle to share something about ourselves.
It is then that it dawns on me just how beautifully unique yet undeniably similar we all are.
We all have our stories. We all want to be heard (the Me too! Me too! 5 year old in me). Some of us grapple with our incessant monkey minds, our legs falling asleep, or in some cases our entire bodies falling asleep (now I don’t feel so bad), but we are all here to try and be a little bit happier and to live a little bit more intentionally.
I am starting to develop a more clear-headed idea about my purpose in life is. I believe that purpose it to continually educate both myself and those around me on how we can lead more conscious and compassionate lives. It is not to simply point out how idiotically ignorant everyone is (something I’ve become fairly skilled at).
There was a time when I, too, was somewhat “idiotically ignorant” of the injustices of the world, and it really wasn’t all that long ago. I have faith that most of man-kind truly wants to do the right thing. None (or at least few) of us want a world filled with murder, environmental destruction, extreme poverty, and hunger. We don’t want to exploit others for our own momentary satisfaction or convenience. A lot of people just don’t realize that the way they live and some of the decisions they make have detrimental consequences for the world.
My hope for my meditation practice is to continue learning to release certain judgements that I’ve been holding on to. About what a “good meditation student” looks like (sometimes it’s an unkempt middle aged man with no cash). About other people who don’t necessarily have the same values as I do. About my own momentary lapses of judgement or good discretion. I try my best to practice everything I preach, but I’m not always perfect. And that’s ok. It doesn’t mean I’m a failure or that I need to berate myself.
I am a student of life just as much as the next person, and a practice of self observance is just the teacher I’ve been looking for.