Last time I wrote here, I wrote about leaving on a 10-day silent retreat. Before I left, I was full of earnest goals and the keen sense that I really needed to get some things together. That hasn't changed, but sadly, I did not make it the full 10 days.
Even writing that leads me to be immediately defensive: BUT WAIT LET ME TELL YOU WHYYYYY.
Last Wednesday, I packed my bags, said my goodbyes and prepared to leave, thinking nothing of the fact that the friend I'd hung out with the night before suddenly had the world's worst "food poisoning." I ate sushi for lunch and headed out on the two hour drive to silence. On the way up, my stomach felt kind of strange, but I chalked it up to nerves and the fact that I have a slight shellfish allergy, yet continue to consume sushi like the carefree, reckless gal I am (I am neither of those things). I remedied this stomach queasiness with an enormous Diet Coke and a large serving of french fries to "settle my stomach" thinking that surely, this would help since 21-year-old Amy relied on hash browns and Diet Coke as she learned to navigate the world of drinking.
When I arrived, I felt grosser, but again thought, yeah, of course you're nervous: you're leaving behind everyone you love to meditate for 10 days in total silence. SEEMS ABOUT RIGHT. As our first night progressed, I began to feel so tired I thought I might die (again, chalking it up to "Of course you're tired --- long drive, sitting in a dark and silent room, blah blah) and fell into bed thinking I'd wake up feeling fantastic.
Instead, I woke up feeling like death had come to take me, and wishing that it would.
I absolutely refuse to write about the full details of this stomach flu online, but let me just say: imagine being deathly ill, with all the accoutrements of a gastrointestinal disorder, in a dorm-style bathroom you're sharing with 10 women. No privacy. No sound barriers if you know what I mean and I THINK YOU DO. I woke up in a pool of my own sweat while simultaneously freezing and all I wanted was for someone to pet me and put a cold compress on my neck and take me to a place where I could lose every nutrient I'd recently consumed in private dignity.
If you know me, it's likely you know that one of my weirdest quirks is my absolutely paralyzing vomit phobia. The last time I'd vomited was when I was 14 years old and it was HORRIBLE. Since then, I've employed a variety of tips and tricks to keep myself from ever puking again. Yes, I've discussed this in therapy and NOPE, it didn't help. There is nothing in the world I dislike more than puke --- my own or that of others. I just cannot. CANNOT. I know, I'm going to make an incredible mother one day.
So, you can imagine how traumatizing it was for me to break this 17 year streak of vomit-free living in a horribly loud and dramatic fashion outside my cabin because like a small child, I couldn't make it to the bathroom.
To my credit, I did not bail on this retreat the minute that happened. I crawled back to bed (after cleaning up, I'm not a monster!) and proceeded to sleep for the rest of the day, minus a few interruptions to tell the course manager and teacher that no, I wasn't able to sit and meditate, mostly because I couldn't move or breathe or think without wanting to end it all. I was told that I absolutely had to come watch the video teaching discourse that evening, so as not to miss further instructions and encouragement and I hauled my poor, sick self to sit on a cushion to watch and had to leave twice to get sick and then fell asleep and awoke to my own snoring. I'm sure everyone around me was like LEAVE, ALREADY.
I woke the next day still feeling like hot garbage and tried my best to follow the schedule. After attempting to eat some oatmeal and regretting it immediately, I asked the course manager if people normally went home when they were this ill. She was quick to tell me that yes, some people did, but that I would have to talk to the teacher. I spent the rest of the day trying really hard to find my center and get into the meditation practice.
I don't know if it was illness or my own defeated attitude or the reality of what happens at a meditation retreat, but it just wasn't happening for me. I sat and tried to meditate on my own breath but was distracted by not feeling well or worrying I'd infected everyone else. I don't want to write a lot about my feelings on the style of meditation practiced there, but as someone who does take meditation pretty seriously and incorporates it regularly, I didn't feel super connected or peaceful when it came to this style. There were fleeting moments when I felt peace, but those mostly came when I walked around outside. Also? I WAS SO SICK. I couldn't find my groove to save my life.
Once I started mentally flirting with the idea of going home to my own bed and toilet and bathtub and cat, I couldn't stop thinking about it. I'd known that I would have moments when I felt like running away --- I'd honestly had them since I pulled into the center. But once I gave myself permission to listen to my body and be really honest with myself about whether or not to go home, I couldn't stop.
I told the manager that I wanted to go home, and she explained that I would need to meet with the teacher again. I sat down in front of the teacher and explained that I was still feeling horrible, and had lost two days of the course and that I thought that I really, really just wanted to go home.
Again, I don't mean to speak poorly of this style or the center or anything about this practice that is amazing for many, but to be honest, I was stunned by what the teacher said to me, which was basically that I shouldn't be a person who assumed that spirituality was easy and I should "just trust her wisdom" and stick it out.
This is where my own internal bells and whistles started going off beyond not feeling well.
There are people in my life I consider teachers --- and I am so lucky. One thing I both love and hate about them is that they absolutely refuse to give advice. I have asked my yoga teacher numerous questions about what I should do or how I should accomplish something, and she has the same response every time: What do you want to do? Why would you trust anyone other than yourself?
To have someone who'd had two very short conversations with me suggest that I couldn't handle hard things and should just "trust her wisdom" made me squirm. I looked her dead in the eye and said, "You know, I'm a person who really struggles to trust myself, but in this situation, I'm going to: I want to go home."
What I told her is not untrue. I struggle to trust my own wisdom on a daily basis. I can't order a coffee without second-guessing myself and one thing I've been working on a lot is doing exactly what I want to do, how and when I want to do it. For so many years, I've believed that what I had to offer wasn't quite up to snuff with what others had to offer, or that my way was immediately wrong because someone might not like it. But you know that little voice inside of you, and that feeling you get when you know you're doing the exact right thing for you, even when it's scary? That's just what I felt when I announced that I was going. I felt free and whole and strong.
And then, of course, I felt terrified for a minute or two. Leaving this retreat felt scary. Is there anything more humiliating than talking something to death and then failing? I'd been planning this since January. In the weeks leading up to it, I'd felt alternatively terrified about going and also desperate to go, simply so I could hear my own voice and thoughts. Before I left, I wrote in my journal that all I wanted was to emerge braver and more clear about who I am.
I got both. I'm in no way someone who is down to barf or anything, but I faced my biggest fear and didn't die. And most importantly, I listened to myself, and trusted what I heard. And then I took action.
It's been interesting being home. Some people made jokes about how they knew I couldn't shut up for 10 days, har har. Others told me they were "disappointed" or "surprised" that I couldn't hack it.
Others (my favorites!) unequivocally supported me and understood that I got exactly what I needed...it just looked a little different than I'd planned.
For someone like me, quitting and not following through and setting myself up to be judged but being willing to do it all anyways is the single most liberating thing I've done in years. I think the best part is that I just don't care. I had approximately .5 seconds of worrying about all the judgment I'd face and then, I got in my car and drove away anyways.
Some experiences belong only to us. I can talk about this experience until I'm blue in the face, but only I know how sick I was, and how sure I felt when I decided to leave. And as my friend Lyndsey so wisely texted me when I told her I was coming home, "These things only mean what we let them mean."
To me, this experience meant one more step towards trusting my own voice and moving by my own spirit. Here's to all the steps after that one. I have a feeling they'll come a little easier this time.