don’t pet a cactus and 15 other things that I learned in 6 hours of silence

pretty things, soulfood

Yesterday I had the great privilege to go to an all day mindfulness retreat that capped off the 6 week mindfulness course that I took this summer. Today has been a very sobering day filled with information that affirmed that I am so blessed with abundance, this experience the least of which. I shall indulge. 

I drove to a seedy unseen part of Albuquerque decorated with old hand painted tire shop signs and road side abandoned appliances. At the end of a long stretch a little two lane road wove onto a Norebertine Abby, (I’m a bad source for dets on Catholic sects, surprise) it was beautiful. Truly felt like the desert. It sounds silly but in the day to day shuffle of my life I forget to look out. To see the landscape. To appreciate the mountains. Somedays I forget that I live in one of the most beautiful places in the world.

Not this day. I gathered up all of my meditative accoutrements, a giant bag full of blankies and pillows and walked into the sanctuary (? again not an authority on monastic life). There was my old familiar teacher, there to communicate that which can’t be taught, to the masses. I situated myself on my mat, inhaled, cleared my mental space for what was sure to be a moving session that blew my mind just as all the ones before it had. Instead she said no teaching, no eye contact, no speaking, follow my lead.

Most of the day was silent meditation. And not just for the 20 minutes that I can barely get though on a regular day but for hours. Uhhhm. I really struggled. I have given mindfulness the ol’ college try and have grown  spiritually and mentally leaps and bounds. I am more in tuned to my physiology than I have ever been before. I have stopped myself dead in my pissed off– judgmental– negativity tracts many times. Which may not sound like much. But, trust that truly letting go of something that is very upsetting (I have a pretty high threshold) takes serious mental stamina.

Michelle (the instructor) said time and again over the course that if she had a way to let people know how they would feel after a constant sustained meditative practice that every single person would. That sounded a little like smoke up my butt for the first few weeks. And then I got it. I’m an infant in the world of mindfulness, I don’t honestly have the resolve at this point in my life to dedicate hours of my day to silent meditation (or even 1) however mindfulness in some form- guided, chanting, yoga, walking, brief spouts of silence is a necessity for me every day. I’m a shitty person without it.

That’s right, I have spent the past 27 years of my life being a mindless person marching though this universe. That’s unfortunate.

So here I was within sacred walls, pushing the time restrictions of my good posture seated on my mat with out any training wheels. No Ommm Shala’s, no Depak Chopras, no flowers to gaze at. Just me and the back of my eye lids. Obviously I dove right into a meditative trance and achieved enlightenment. The end. 

Obviously, I floundered. Like a baby with bound legs in the deep end of the pool. Gasping for air in the rip tide of my mind.

My mind:
Essays to write, letters to mail, floors to mop, shit when does Ev start gymnastics?, I really need to call my insurance company, mental countdown to Mexico carry the one 52 days until vacation!!, how are we going to get back to Kansas for Christmas?… Ommmmm, Damn it Reagon focus.

1 second of nothing. Hey look I’m thinking about nothing, shit if I’m thinking about not thinking about think about doing nothing than I am thinking, I’ll never win. Honor the thoughts that pop up then come back to center. Note to self do more yoga old age is a bitch. No focus. Think about something meaningful at least. I compromised.

Though externally silent I chanted in my head. I chanted over and over for good health and safety for Julius and Ari. I went back to those same tears that welled up in my eyes the day before listening to this story about two Syrian boys and their mother that drowned on their journey to Greece. The line about the little boy being so excited to get on a boat and go to a new place. I’ll never get over that. I spent a lot of time studying the architecture of the rafters. Thinking about what it would be like to devote your entire life to your religion. Thinking about the desert. Thinking about the journey that I have been on. Thinking about how nature has been revealing itself to me lately or is it that I’ve been looking though wider eyes?


The sweet ring of bells. We moved into the body scan. I passed the f out. Instantaneously. Technically I have never gotten past my hips on the body scan, so this was no surprise. I should donate my brain to sleep study science. Just as soon as I figure out how to bottle it my immediate sleep response, it’s yours ye old restless.

Ahhh, that panic of waking up in the middle of class in a pool of your own drool. In shock and mild vertigo I stood up and transitioned into my walking mediation. The desert be known, it was hot as hell and I was woozy. Walking meditation requires that you move like a zombie. But it’s really awesome. I have seen more lizards, beautiful birds, insects, flowers, rays of light arranging its self artfully in my path in the past two months than I have in my entire life.

I wander about. Walked though a war zone of goat heads (sand burs for my non-New Mexican friends) to contemplate a patch of sun flowers. It was teaming with bees and wasps. My mind drifted to our environment and landed in the hallow place of despair where I store all of the facts about global warming, extinction of species, pollution and the human responsibility in all of it. Dozens of stingers buzzed by and not a single one payed me any attention. To be a flower, vessel to the nectar, in the eye of a honey bee.

Life: the motivation to be one of those two parties and yet today I am a silent observer. There’s so much growth in that step into the invalidated. Everyday it feel a little less foreign, but it’s still not easy.

I walked back as a bed of angry spikes dug into my soles. I pulled them out one by one thinking about the concept of pain as I often do when something is trying its hardest to get me to react. I zombie-d around some more, eventually turning back for shade as this scene from the greatest animated film of all time looped in my head.

I survived and no mirage. Then I saw the most vibrant patch of cacti. I sauntered over to them and then reached out and petted one of the flowers (not so keen on cactus anatomy) it looked so smooth that I had to touch it.

The cute little dots on the flowers, yeah those are microscopic little daggers. In my finger. I walked down the path debating if I should pull them out or just leave them in. Suddenly, I had a very real awareness of the tip of my right index finger. I left them in for a while, eventually sitting down and carefully pulling all but one out. That last one’s going to emerge when it’s good a ready.

In the midst of all of this (it’s funny how a simple walk feels like so much)  my awareness shifted to my mother. That bitch is every where 🙂 I thought about how I wish that I knew the plants of New Mexico. About how through osmosis I absorbed so much botany from her. In Kansas all of the little creatures, the song of the birds, the grasses all had a name, here they’re all brand new. I won’t find another person on this Earth with fifteen spare years to slip all of the wild flower’s name into conversation. We get one home. One set of things that come naturally. The rest is work.