Thursday, December 10, 2015

Life As It Is, or 'What the Hell Am I Doing Here'?

My friends and I at the San Francisco Airport

Sunday night I got home from an Embodied Life retreat where we practiced embodied meditation (similar to Zen), deep inner listening, and awareness through movement lessons (based on the work of Moshe Feldenkrais). The Embodied Life work is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. It is extremely countercultural. Everything is done very slowly with an emphasis on our bodily experience and acceptance of each moment. I deeply love it.

However, lest you think I spent the weekend blissed out, soaking in gratitude and rose water, I thought it might be helpful to share my honest experience with you. I also want to say that I am deeply thankful to my friends MaryBeth and Luann, without whom I would not have attended retreat. Our connection as embodied women is a gift which I cherish.

  • I arrive at Santa Sabina. It quickly becomes apparent that I am the youngest person in the room by 20 years. There is another group sharing the retreat center with us. The median age must be 70. I think they’re Christian, but I don’t know because they are silent. One woman has a tracheotomy, one woman is recovering from a stroke. I eat my oatmeal in silence and watch old people eat. One day I’ll be old.

  • We sit in silent meditation in the dark. After 30 minutes or so, we move into walking meditation. It’s also silent. And extremely slow. It takes us 30 minutes to move 20 feet. I can’t shake the thought, “what the fuck am I doing?” After walking, we sit again, this time facing the wall. Then we bow to the ground three times.

  • I get chastised by an expired hippie named Blue for talking outside on my cell phone. Apparently I should have walked all the way to the parking lot. “They’ll tell on you, it’s against the rules,” she says, as if I am 10 years old.

  • We listen to our teacher tell us about his recent trip to Auschwitz. He talks about the pile of hair and gold teeth, about the survivors and how they made meaning and forgave and thrived. There are chills throughout the room.

  • My lover calls to tell me about a party he went to the night before. “There were so many beautiful people, and good whiskey, and dancing,” he tells me. “Cool. I’m happy for you,” I say. Silently I think, “I’d better get back so I can sit in the dark with a bunch of old people I don’t know. What the hell?”

  • I notice a woman named Barbara across the circle. She has the sort of poise and presence I am after. I whisper to her, “Barbara, you are stunning.” She replies, “and you.” On the last day I tell her, “this Feldenkrais is so not sexy.” To which Barbara replies in her gorgeous, British accent, “the word that comes to mind is potent. This work has potency, and potency is sexy.” I smile and take note.

  • I go for a long walk each day. I meet a man named Tom who was born without an arm. He’s proud of his paddle boarding business. I visit him the next two days. On the last day I tell him that I hope he’s very successful with his business venture. It feels good to talk to a real, live person who is my same age. It feels good to move.

  • My lover calls me and I share the things I am learning about. We get really excited about our shared discoveries. “Come home soon so you can teach me,” he says. “Learn all you can.”

  • One night we do our sitting meditation in groups of three. I find huge support from a stranger named Gary. I look at his still, solid belly and I know I, too, can sit.

  • On my way out the door, I slip a $2 trinket in my pocket from the gift shop. I have no idea why I’m stealing something I don’t really want. Later I realize it is an act of rebellion after spending the weekend being told what to do. I have issues with being told what to do. I have issues with being part of a group.

  • I call my mom and say, “I’m having a really hard time being part of the group.” She laughs out loud and wonders how this is surprising news.

  • My generous friend Luann brings MaryBeth and I into the airport Crown Room. We drink wine and I confess all the judgmental thoughts I’ve been keeping to myself. Like good friends, they listen, laugh, and share. I feel saved by their presence.

  • The truth is that the work of sitting and bowing and laughing and listening is really, really important. I want to dedicate my life to it. And it is not easy. Despite our best efforts, part of life is suffering. It is inescapable. I constantly find myself needing to forgive when I want to resent, needing more courage than I currently have, needing help from people who annoy me, needing to reconsider my fixed views, needing to be a little more vast, a little more loving, a little more brave, needing to try again. I am grateful for the opportunity to practice, regardless of how that opportunity shows up. Learning to embrace Life as it is, this, too, is our practice. 


  1. Thank you for sharing these moments with such elegance and honesty. You are inspiring and real.

  2. I love it this so much, Celeste. I know Santa Sabina, Barbara, Gary, Blue and more. :) Barbara's Australian, and I agree, totally stunning. I love her. I love your reflections. Important, not easy. I've also so often been the youngest in the group. I think it's important for us to be there too... By the time the people our age come around to realizing this stuff is important, they'll be old. They'll need people their age who can represent. Glad you're doing it! Cheers to potency, which, though utterly countercultural, is totally sexy. I love you. xo

  3. I was hoping to find something here about your retreat experience. So glad you wrote what was true for you. Beautiful reflections. I share your struggle with groups and then realized that is how we met :) I am slowly learning there are always kindred gems in the mix. How brave of you to put yourself into a new experience and allow it to be what it needed to be.

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