On talking about shutting up. Or: 3 Things You Wouldn’t Guess About Meditating For 5 Hours A Day!

In the final hour of the silent Zen meditation retreat I just attended, during the closing dharma talk our teacher said, among many other pearls: “Self-expression is overrated.” We all laughed. I can’t know if everyone’s laughter felt as exposed yet cathartic as mine did. But I imagine we were all mostly on different points of the same wavelength. Self-expression is overrated. Self-expression is overrated. As much as I talk, as much as I write, as much as I think about writing and talking, there is always a part of me that wants to shut up.

I wouldn’t say that I’m shy. But I am not nearly as socially confident as I appear. There’s never been a party I haven’t wanted to walk away from upon reaching the door. Rarely a phone call that I don’t wince before taking. And I have left grocery stores mid-shop because I don’t want to run into someone who I see is there, and who I know but I haven’t caught up with in so long that we actually don’t know each other any more so we will be in this purgatory of acting happy to see a stranger, fraught with awkward pauses and empty promises to have lunch. I love people. Even those I hide from in the Trader Joe’s bathroom. But y’all wear me out.

And as much as I love you, my dearie dears, I don’t let you get a word in edgewise, do I? That’s when I just want to shut up. But it is so hard. Because my nerves and my frantic resistance to just being where I am has lead me to the habit of trying to fill up the world with my hot air. These days, I literally write lists of questions I want to ask my friends, like a crib sheet on how not to be awful next time we meet. As much as I care about them, and about non-friends as well, I often cannot seem to shut up long enough to convey that. I’m working on it.

So why write about how I need to stop telling people about what I think? Ah, grasshopper. You must be in cahoots with that “shut up” voice in my head. I have been writing less lately. In part because the ol’ 9 to 5 really takes up a lot of my mental energy. But also in no small part because (now that I’ve got that super succinct Zen nugget) I have been coming to realize that self-expression is, you know, overrated. It’s a fine line between honest processing and whining and/or self-aggrandizement. Lately, I have not been sure which side I’m on when keys hit (key)board. I write. I read what I wrote. I wrinkle my nose and furrow my brow, and then drag that document to the Neverland of my tales. Then I turn on private browsing so I can Google “botox Nashville covered by insurance?” into Safari without anyone being the wiser!! All that wrinkling and furrowing, you see.

I have a lot more I could write about the experience I had last weekend. It was really profound. Profoundly difficult, profoundly frustrating and profoundly humbling. And it was incredibly joyful, as well, in these radiant glimpses that brought tears to my eyes. But I feel self-conscious and raw, still, about the whole thing. I am glad that I had something to say that felt honest, after a prolonged break.

And now, for my modern reader, a listicle, so you can get your fix.

3 Things You Wouldn’t Guess About Meditating For 5 Hours A Day:

  1. It hurts. Perching on a pillow sounds all fluffy and nice, doesn’t it? Well, physically, that much meditating it runs the gamut between uncomfortable to excruciating. Multiple able-bodied people collapsed when trying to walk after a long sit because your legs try to die when you don’t move for that long.  I actually began to wonder if getting a sweet “meditation butt” was a thing, like a “yoga butt” because such was the agony of my glutes that I was compelled to search for a silver lining.
  2. Your mind is full of nonsense. The thing is about being silent for days on end is that it is the loudest few days of your life. I did a 10 day silent retreat about five years back. I had at least two days where my mind blasted “The Thong Song” in my head. Over. And over. It was a sick way to realize it, but it became crystal clear to me then that I am not my mind.  Because I can’t get down with identifying with a thing that uses enhanced interrogation procedures on myself.
  3. Meditation-Induced-Narcolepsy is a thing. In order to resist just being, your brain will not only try to drive you mad with paranoia, judgments and one hit wonders. It will also try to just make you straight pass out. In real life, I am prone to insomnia. I never nap. Yet during these meditation retreats, I would estimate, conservatively, that I fell asleep while sitting up – and while actively trying to not fall asleep – twenty plus times a day. You won’t see any telethons for it, probably because it is not the 1980s and you just won’t see any telethons period, but now you know about this very real condition.

Till the next time… (let me see that thong, thuh-thong thong thong…)

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Meditation retreat selfie.  Am I crazy, or is this not going to catch on at all?

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2 comments

  1. Rakel, I started a walking group, “Walk with me in silence.” Women’s reactions about the experience reinforces for me the message, “Self-expression is overrated.” Thank you for taking the time to share.

  2. Our mind is this entity who is not us but resides within us and we believe it to be who we are. This ego is clever and relentless. But, there are those moment, like right after having a baby, your true essence, peace and love, takes over.


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