A few years ago I travelled half-way around the world to do a month long meditation retreat in Nepal.
After a 15-hour flight to Dubai, an overnight layover and a four-hour flight to Nepal I finally made it.
I was exhausted and yet I hadn’t even begun.
I’ve done many retreats over the last two decades, and although there is a little excitement of anticipation, there is also some trepidation.
Because the reality is retreats are tough – and this was by far the most challenging one I’d ever done.
I was booked in for a private retreat, which means you are on your own. There’s no course or schedule to follow, no group meditation and although I had access to a Nun for some guidance, essentially no teacher.
You have to apply to do these kinds of retreats – and show everything you’ve done to date to try and prove you’re ready for it.
There was a separate building in the monastery for those of us doing private retreats. This is where we would spend our entire time, except for meals, meditating in our rooms alone – for me it would be 31 days.
After a few days, I will readily admit I started to get bored.
I was over the jet-lag and my excuses for little naps here and there were now sounding rather weak.
In fact, I was becoming rather weak.
I had just finished my first sitting of the day and I started thinking about how many days I had left.
It didn’t take long before the enormity of the retreat started to sink in.
OMG I’m only 5 days in and I’ve got another 26 days to go!
Twenty-six long days of meditating in this room by myself.
And then I realized it’s only 7am— if I include today it’s 27 days!!!
Now it’s getting longer!
At that moment the flood gates opened and my thoughts were screaming at me.
My heart was racing, I started sweating and my whole body contracted as my mind was spinning out of control.
I was panicking.
I just couldn’t fathom how much time I was going to be spending doing the same thing hour after hour, day after day, in this tiny little room – alone.
At that point, I was sure I couldn’t do it. I didn’t know how I’d make it through the day let alone the rest of the month.
As I was lying on my bed in the fetal position, mentally agonizing over this and torturing myself, I had a brief flash of mindfulness in the form of a question.
“Is this moment OK?”
The next thing I knew I was out of my head and back in my room.
I looked at my surroundings.
I was safe.
I listened to the birds singing outside.
So I answered, “Yes, this moment is OK.”
A few more minutes passed, I could feel the tension starting to arise so I asked myself again, “Is this moment OK?”
I thought about it, “Yes, this moment is OK.”
It wasn’t long before it was time to go to breakfast.
Mindfully I climbed the steep steps of the monastery leading to the dining hall.
I stayed present – knowing that if I wasn’t vigilant those fearful thoughts would come right back again.
I got in line and filled my bowl with porridge.
I sat down.
“Is this moment OK?”
“Yes,” I told myself.
I ate my porridge in silence.
I was OK.
After breakfast, instead of returning to my room, I went and sat on a bench in the Stupa Gardens.
For three hours I just sat there and every 10 minutes or so, I’d ask myself, “Is this moment OK?”
To which I would peacefully reply, “Yes, this moment is OK.”
I didn’t reply unconsciously, I really evaluated what was going on to see if this moment was OK or not.
And each time I did this, what I found was that it was OK.
In fact, it was more than OK.
As the morning passed, I felt peaceful, relaxed and had a deep sense of connection to everything around me.
For the next 30 hours, except for when I was sleeping or eating I sat on that bench.
I was OK.
I was present.
I was happy.
The following day after lunch I decided it was time to return to my room and get back to my meditation.
Often our fears arise because we don’t know how we’re going to handle the next moment – ironically causing us to panic in this moment.
This is where all the crazy stories get told about how “we can’t do it,” “we’re not strong enough” or “it’s going to kill us.”
It’s the birthplace of every self-defeating thought we’ve ever had.
Without awareness it can drown us with fear.
And although it’s not easy to always stay present – keep in mind what the alternative is – being a slave to your most frightening thoughts and even worse believing them.
My scary thoughts were leading me to want to pack up my bags and leave the retreat, scaring me into believing I couldn’t do it, when clearly I could and I did.
So how did the rest of the retreat go?
I can’t say there weren’t anymore difficult moments – there were.
But when I lost my footing I would come back to this simple question, “Is this moment OK?”
With those four simple words I would release myself from the gripping fear of the future and allow myself to rest in the peace of the present moment.
“Yes, this moment is OK.”
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