As I sat motionless staring at the long line of stationery traffic in front stretching on for at least 2 miles.
Not only was I now moving, but I was not moving on the wrong side of the I75 heading toward Ocala instead of Tampa.
I realized I was probably going to be late and I was officially stressed.
I berated myself for not concentrating at the Intersection of the I4, not leaving earlier, stopping for something to eat as well as the Middle East Crisis because I had a sense that may have had something to do with me.
Then I caught myself.
You’re A Life Coach!
“Seriously, you’re a Life Coach on your way to a meditation retreat and you’re stressed?
What the hell kiddo, you need to chill the fuck down! You won’t be refused admission, formally reprimanded or made to say 10 hail Buddha’s whilst standing on one leg eating a pound of tofu.”
The truth is I was a tad anxious about the retreat before I even left home.
Would my knees and back hold up to 3 or 4 hours of meditating per day?
Would I remain engaged and not get bored?
Would I be able to sleep well in a strange bed (something that’s always been an issue for me)?
And would I make a total ass of myself by doing something ridiculous or asking a stupid question.
The answer to all of those was a resounding yes!
Oh, except for the last one, I would deliver on that score and them some, but more later.
Arriving At The Retreat
When I finally got to retreat center (amazingly enough, on time and a lot more relaxed) I was delighted to see it was as beautiful as it looked online and a positive haven of peace and tranquility.
I parked my car, strolled up to the lovely looking house and walked in through the open door. Wow! A stunning sunken lounge lay in front of me with a kitchen on the next tier, a stairway running off the lounge and I could see a bedroom the other side of the kitchen.
“This will do” I thought.
I shouted hello but I was greeted by silence so I wondered across the lounge and through the kitchen because I could hear a TV turned on in the bedroom.
Even bigger wow! A flat-screen TV in a gorgeous bedroom. To be honest I wasn’t expecting to see any TV whatsoever, but it was nice to have just in case, and I certainly wasn’t going to complain.
I called out again and again got no reply, so I wondered back outside to be met by another attendee who had just arrived, Rick.
We had a chat and it was then I noticed another building off to the side and was curious to know if somebody was in there.
We both strolled round to the door and into the annex to be met by Bodhipaksa for the first time. Even though I’ve known him online for getting on 5 years and done many of his online Skype courses it was the first time we’d met in person.
Disappointingly, he wasn’t 7” feet tall with an angelic glow around him as I’d imagined, but a normal Human Being. Albeit it a Human Being with a smile that would make the most miserable hard-bitten cynic feel good about themselves.
I motioned back to the other building saying my bags were in there and was kindly told that wasn’t the retreat, that was the house of the owner!
Oh well, at least I didn’t plonk my bags down in the master bedroom, claim it for my own and stretch out on the bed in my boxer shorts to watch some TV.
Buddha’s Greatest Hits
The first night involved some meditation – no really it did, eating a very health, but completely anti-Paleo vegan meal and then getting to know the other attendees as we sat outside and drank wine.
Ok the wine bit is a lie and for somebody who likes a nice glass of white with his meal on a Friday evening, strangely I never even noticed its absence.
The first sit was like Buddha’s greatest hits as Bodhi (as he shall be known from now on) lead us through the mindfulness of breathing and the Metta Bhavana lovingkindness meditation, two of my favorites.
My knees didn’t give in on me, I didn’t sit their scratching like a demented Gibbon with eczema and my back only gave me the occasional – “don’t forget I’m here” twinge.
At the end, Bodhi bade us goodnight and instructed that we were not to speak until after breakfast the following morning.
Oh. I wasn’t expecting that, and for a man that likes a good natter it sounded tough with a capital T.
But surprisingly it wasn’t, and other than not being able to call Helen to assure her I hadn’t ended up in a Hare Krishna commune and was currently sporting a rather nifty saffron robe and on my way to Atlanta airport to sell some flowers, I actually liked it.
I wasn’t awake all night, in fact I slept so well that I never even heard Shelley and Linda in the next room bail out in the kind of panic that would have had Corporal Jones cringing (sorry for the UK cultural reference there that probably means nothing to you, but it will to the Brits on the retreat).
They left their room no doubt fearing for their lives and taking their bedding to sleep in the meditation room.
What was the source of this problem?
None other than a vicious killer Palmetto bug.
Welcome to Florida you northern wusses!
I was awake at 6.30 and lay on my bed reading until the first sit at 7.30am (I’m proud to say I never once fired up my iPad the whole weekend).
There was some low level chatter going on about the preceding nights invasion by the large, very unattractive and completely harmless critter, but I abstained and only nodded a couple of times.
I was too busy prepping myself for a one hour sit.
I’d only sat for an hour a couple of times previously and on each occasion I thought my iPhone app had crashed and I’d really been sat for 3 and a half days with nobody wishing to disturb me in case I was on a sponsored sit.
We started spot on 7.30am and again not only did I have no problems, but I didn’t want it to end. That’s good, but also from Buddhist perspectives, somewhat bad.
I say ‘bad’, but in reality Buddhist’s don’t consider things either good or bad. Those terms are not only often wrong (how many times has what you perceived to be a bad event turned out to be a positive one in the long run?), but they lead to black and white thinking.
Skillful Or Unskillful?
The Buddhist approach is to look at things as either skillful or unskillful.
It sounds like we’re splitting hairs, but when you start to think as your behaviors in that way you’re far less likely to judge yourself and others. You can always learn new skills, but if you see something you did as wrong then that creates an entirely different mindset..
I know I bang on a lot about the importance of language and this is yet another example of a small change that can make a huge difference, so much so that I will be introducing this approach into my coaching work.
As I said, I didn’t want the session to end and that is grasping at something pleasurable and a big no-no. Grasping at people, things or experiences causes suffering and is unskillful behavior.
However, I was assured if there were a grasping rankings top 50 chart it would almost certainly be much lower down than lusting after the woman sat in front of me, wanting some crack and wondering which liquor store to hold up on the drive home.
Speaking was still not allowed until breakfast was finished and even though I was asked a couple of questions I answered in nods, rather smugly it has to be said. You will never grind me down, I am man of steel, I shall not talk!
Well not unless you ask me something interesting and in my haste to answer I forget I’m not supposed to be talking. I am man of goldfish memory!
I was eating my toast respecting the Nobel Peace and somebody said something (I forget what now) and I instinctively answered waving my jam covered toast around to make a point.
At that exact point everybody else was silent and Bodhi walked in.
“Fuck me” I thought “This is like all those times when I used to work for my dad and he could be in Brazil searching for the source of the Amazon, but would still manage to walk in to the office if I started dicking around”
Fortunately, Bodhi isn’t a strict disciplinarian and he didn’t give me a damn good thrashing with a zafu or any other cushion-like object for that matter.
Saturday involved lots of meditation, some silent and some lead by Bodhi as we started to cultivate compassion, the goal (if goal is the right word and it probably isn’t) of the retreat.
In between we talked and I got to know some amazing people. I don’t think I have ever been in a more friendly, open-minded and just downright, nice environment this side of a 1992 ecstasy-fueled rave.
It was an absolute privilege to meet them all and I’m pretty sure not one of them were on hallucinogenic drugs.
On Saturday evening before the final sit of the day Bodhi read some of the Buddha’s teachings. I’m terrible at remembering the names so can’t tell you which one, but I can tell you this.
It was fascinating.
I thought I’d be bored, but the reality is Buddhism is so bloody practical and often fits snugly into what I talk to clients about and I really enjoyed it.
The Power of Language
We even got into a conversation about what in NLP are termed complex equivalences (something I talk a lot about with clients and you can click the link to see a video explaining it in more detail), but in Buddhism is known as the first and second arrow (or sometimes, dart).
In short, this means it’s never an event itself that makes you feel bad, but your interpretation of the event and how you react to it.
As Shakespeare said a couple of thousand years after the Buddha was around, “There is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so”
Everybody gets hits by the first arrow of shit going down in their lives from time to time, but most people unskillfully compound their suffering by attaching all sorts of meanings to the event, many of which are simply not true and serve only to make them feel worse.
Unskillful – He shouted at me therefore I’m bad and/or he hates me
Skillful – He shouted at me, I wonder what is happening in his life to act like that?
Unskillful – I got fired and now I’ll lose my house and end up wondering the streets stinking of urine and muttering to myself
Skillful – I got fired and now have the chance to find a better more fulfilling job
It’s easy to respond unskillfully and we may even be wired up to do so, evolutionary speaking.
However, acting skillfully requires effort and conscious awareness of our thoughts and that can be tiring and too much like hard work for many people, which is why they are doomed to repeat the same mistakes.
I didn’t expect to be involved in a conversation that seemed just like one I may have with another Life Coach, just with different terminology. This was an added bonus, to actually be learning things I can translate into my coaching practice.
Open Mouth – Insert Foot
I wished there had been wine there, because at least then I’d have an excuse for the question I blurted out next. I have no idea how I got onto this topic, but get onto it I did by asking:
“If Buddha was effectively a vegetarian (he did occasionally eat meat as he begged for all his food and would take what was offered) why was he so fat in later life?
Much chuckling all round as it was pointed out the figure I was thinking of what not the Buddha, but a Buddha, the Laughing Buddha who obviously liked his meat pies and a beer or two a tad too much.
Not the same fella at all and the ‘real’ Buddha was probably ripped like a side of beef and able to knock out 20 one-armed pushups with the Laughing Buddha sat on his back.
Well how was I supposed to know Buddha’s were ten a penny in those days and probably more common than Life Coaches are now? After all, I’ve only been meditating for 5 years and these things can slip by you.
You’re Never Too Old, Too Clever, Or Too Experienced To Learn
Sunday morning I was up again at 6.30 and reading an excellent and hysterical book called The Misadventure of a Garden State Yogi (al)- more in an up coming post and well worth checking out.
About 15 minutes before the sit I decided to wander outside and enjoy the peace of sitting by the lake in the morning light.
That’s what I like to think, but in reality I was playing Words With Friends on my phone for the first time since I got there with a friend who is in England.
Not very enlightened in retrospect, but come on, I had a juicy triple word score opened up for me.
I looked at the time and saw it was 7.33am and ran to the meditation room to find the sit had already started.
Again I cursed myself as I tried to be quiet and get into place without disturbing those that had actually made the lengthy 3 step walk from the kitchen to the meditation room on time.
Then it struck me what Bodhi was saying. He had just started to lead a meditation that included the first phase of offering compassion to ones self.
Was I doing that?
Of course I wasn’t and I’d have have probably beaten a client with a large pointy stick to within an inch of their life (not really, but a reminder would have been in order) if they had done such a thing.
Prior to this weekend I really thought I’d more or less eradicated giving myself a hard time, but that wasn’t the case. I have some work to do if I’m to walk the walk with a little more integrity.
It just goes to show that self development is never a job you finish, it’s ongoing and sometimes we lose sight of our own limitations (which is why hiring a Life Coach is a great idea!).
And before anybody says anything, I’m not beating myself up over my faux pas, they are par for the course and make for excellent blog copy.
A Life-Changing Event?
Late morning on Sunday after another meditation – and by now they were sailing by and I’d have been happy to have gone for longer – we all sat down to talk about the weekends events.
Life-changing is a word that is bandied around a little bit too often for my liking (even if technically speaking every single thing you ever do is life-changing at some level).
However, in this case I genuinely believe some of the attendees had made huge beneficial, even life-changing shifts. The change in a number of them was almost palpable.
Was it life-changing for me?
I honestly don’t know, I think that is down to how I apply what I learned both about meditation and myself.
If I do nothing with it, then it was merely a very enjoyable stress-busting weekend, but I don’t plan to let that happen.
I now know I can meditate for longer than 30 minutes without melting down into a blubbering mess. I know that I’ve slipped back in how I treat myself and I also know that the only thing weird about meditation is that some people don’t do it.
Some Thanks To The People That Made It Such An Awesome Weekend
To Shelly who helped organize events and shared an amazing powerful story with me about the loss of her husband.
To Adrian for cooking the food. if I’d been given what he had to cook with I’d have either phoned the local Chinese or burst into tears.
To Ed for being almost as loud and almost as funny as me. I’m sure he’s louder and funnier really, but he graciously let my ego dominate things.
To Rick for being brutally honest about his upbringing and allowing his mask to drop in front of everybody when it was plain to see it was very tough for him.
To Kristin who never seemed to stop smiling and had almost everybody in tears at the end.
To AJ who unfortunately had to leave early because of excruciating back pain. The question you passed on to me to ask Bodhi had everybody in hysterics, nice one mate!
To Linda for laughing at my jokes and representing all things Scottish via Canada.
And last but not least, to Bodhi for being such a fantastic communicator, teacher and all round great guy with a voice that we all agreed is the best in the Buddhist community, and would have had his fellow countryman, Sean Connery, weeping with shame.
If you’re curious to know more, you can download my free ebook on meditation (there’s also an audio version) aimed at beginners and skeptics.
You can also visit Bodhipaksa’s site at Wildmind and kick things off my maybe downloading a couple of guided meditations. I have 4 of his and they are all excellent.
Trust me, if you do that and stick with it, you may just see it as the best money you ever spent.
Now go meditate, after you’ve left a comment of course ;-)