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Diving Into Formal Meditation! (Guest Blogger Nicole Zimmerman - Series: On the IDP Experience)

(IDP will be featuring community members' and IDP participants' experiences and thoughts on IDP classes and retreats. This is the first entry in this new series which will feature a new writer approximately 2-3 times a month.)

by Nicole Zimmerman

So I was asked to write this blog about my experience with the past meditation retreat on “The Four Levels” of mindfulness which took place the weekend of September 23, 2010. I’ve been brooding and going over and over how I should write this, almost the same way I was feeling when I walked into the retreat, getting lost in thought and speculation as to what would be the best and most appropriate way to “do this”. You see, the meditation retreat was my first experience ever of “formal meditation”.

I walked in that Friday night filled with all the insecurities and doubts that a novice would have entering such a “mastered” setting. I thought I was in way over my head, who did I think I was going into a full blown meditation retreat, alongside such developed practitioners?… heck, I never even sat in meditation for more than an hour myself… could I make it through a whole weekend? I didn’t even know what those cushiony things were called (still don’t for that matter). How many do I use? how do I even sit on them? What if I get tired, distracted, bored, overcome by emotion? What if I fall asleep? What is everyone else thinking? And with all the training, would I even be able to follow along with the basic teachings of the retreat? All these questions were rushing through my mind, all at once, convoluted in their own chaotic way… my thoughts playing tricks on me, distracting me from relinquishing them. Finally, once we sat for that brief moment on Friday night, I decided to surrender to the experience and let it be what it was. No judgments, no expectations, just the intention to simply let the weekend be what it was and to remain present every step of the way. Only then did I open myself to this new experience which ended up being the most exhausting and overwhelming experience, but one of the most enriching, insightful and liberating that I’ve had in these 26 years of being in this body.

The most challenging day was most certainly Saturday. Not only was it the longest day of the retreat, but it also would have been my father’s birthday. He passed away of cancer 5 years ago, and this would have been his 50th birthday. In part, this is what led me to sign up for the retreat, and he was one of the many people my practice was dedicated to. I’ve done a lot of contemplation on life and death, on the mind and consciousness (and the consciousness of consciousness) , on myself as body, on myself as mind, and of myself as…well..”SELF”… but never to the extent or level that I did this weekend.  Right when I thought I couldn’t sit any longer, Ethan said something about “just showing up” and that was what I needed to hear at that moment. I’ve always been a creature of comfort and stability, and have clinged on to those feelings after losing both of my parents. I tend to simply run away when I feel that that stability and comfort are in jeopardy.  Yet by staying, just showing up to myself, for myself and with myself, I realized that some of the most transformative moments in my life have also been the toughest. Intellectually, I always knew that, and in my mind, I always believed that all the shit life has thrown at me in this short lifetime (and believe you me, it has been a lot of shit… losing my parents was really the easiest of all the crap) has served a greater purpose and have transformed me into the person I am today. But something was different this time, the shift was on a deeper level, not just intellectual. Although I was scared to death of this entirely new experience, and although it was one of the most challenging things I think I have ever CHOSEN to do, I got through it and I would do it all over again without a moment’s doubt. I’m glad I let go of the mental reigns and allowed myself to just keep “showing up” without judging, without expecting, and without needing to KNOW what would happen next. All I can say, is that the retreat impacted me in ways I could never articulate into words, let alone in a few paragraphs and I look forward to doing it again. I am grateful to everyone who was there that weekend sharing their time and space, their being and their energy in that single room of stillness and alertness. I look forward to continuing and developing my practice with the IDP.

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