I Injured Myself On Day One of A Meditation Retreat

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Today I injured myself at a meditation retreat.  That’s right, a med-i-ta-tion retreat.  This happened to a woman who works out 5-6 days a week and has never even had a strained tendon.  How did this happen? Let me start from the very beginning. 

This year my New Years Resolution was to take better care of myself and lower my stress level. You see, I’m that type A personality, slightly OCD, relentless perfectionist type with an uncharacteristic desire for the serene. This next sentence should begin with “not to sound cliché  but” but the reality is what I’m about to say is totally cliché:  Ever since I read Eat, Pray, Love by Liz Gilbert I’ve had this dream, or delusion, that I could totally be meditation guru.  I can see myself at that Ashram in India meditating for hours a day in perfect form with a total mastery of the mind.  So, today I took that leap.  I attended a Meditation Retreat at a local Zen Center.

My husband and I arrived at 8:30 am and were greeted by the Zen Center’s teacher and several students.  We were given an introduction to meditation practice by one of the students named Patricia.  She showed us how to bow when entering and leaving the meditation room, how to sit while in meditation, and even gave us a few tips on how to observe the mind during practice. “Our Master focus on the ‘I don’t know’ meditation, it goes inhale, ‘What Am I? exhale, ‘Don’t Know.’”  “And once the practice starts, we don’t talk.  We maintain silence the entire time.” Ok that doesn’t sound too hard.  We graciously told her that we may mess up a few times since we are beginners but we were excited to give it a try. 

Before I knew it six of us we were standing in socks, around little square padded mats lined up in a circle, palms pressed together at heart center.  Three of the more experienced Zen Masters were dressed in full meditation garb. (I’m certain there is an actual word for this but of course, I’m a beginner).  I sheepishly looked down at my “Diet Coke” T-shirt. “Man, I need one of those robes.”

 The leader of the group hit a pair of sticks together (again, I’m sure there is a more Zen-like name for these things) indicating it was time to begin.  With 108 bows.  That’s right one-hundred-and-eight.  And I’m not taking about the little Namaste bow you do at the end of yoga class.  I’m taking about full body, standing to kneeling, forehead to floor, palms up, stand-up, repeat, 108 bows.  I anxiously looked around to make sure I was performing these bows exactly right, and in cadence.  I noticed my little mind wanted to compete with everyone in the room by powering through those 108 bows faster than anyone had ever done before.  I envisioned myself in this bowing competition where I would jump up at the end, arms in the air, and declare “I win, I bowed the fastest!” Shit. I am so screwed. 

Once we completed the bows it was straight to chanting.  We all sat cross legged on our mats holding a little book of chants.  “Page 11 everyone” Patricia said.  Then she struck those sticks together and we were off.  “Gago-de-la-ri-ha”  What?  “Ri-ri-om-da-ha”  Ok, I’m just going to try to go along best I can. The chants were a mixture of Sanskrit and Korean.  Neither of which I knew, obviously. I fumbled my way through the chants and when the sticks were hit together again I was relieved it was over.  But then came the sitting.  The practice is 30 minutes of sitting followed by 10 minutes of walking in a circle, then repeat, for four hours. Yes, FOUR hours

Ok, I got this.  Just like Patricia said, Inhale.  What Am I?  Exhale.  I Don’t Know.  Inhale.  What Am I? Exha---this is crazy.  Inhale.  What am I?  Exhale.  I Don’t Know.  Inha---are my toes going numb?  What Am I?  Exha—yes, they most definitely are.  I Don’t Know. Inhale.  Um, excuse me, no one told me what to do if my toes and legs go numb?  What Am I?  Exhale. I Don’t Know. Just don’t move.  Be Zen Like.  Inhale. This can’t be good for your extremities, right? What Am I? Exha--- Be freaking Zen-like!  Thirty minutes later, although my mind had run a marathon my body hadn’t moved at all. Patricia tapped those sticks together.  I realized that this the was time to walk.  I unraveled my legs, used my arms to push myself up to standing, whoa I still can’t feel my legs.

And then it happened. 

In the middle of the Zen Retreat my legs completely gave out and I fell over crashing into the shrine of candles and a little picture of a serene monk carefully placed for rituals. BOOM. I caught myself on the wall.

The reaction was a mixture of the unspoken “Are we allowed to talk if someone is injured?” and a very verbal, “OMG! ARE YOU OK!?”

I embarrassingly scooted my limp legs to the center of the circle and said “I think I hurt my ankle... um, it’s ok, just give me a minute.”  And to make matters worse, the retreat went on as if nothing had happened. Everyone lined up in a circle around me and started walking silently, in step with one another.  I sat there rubbing my numb legs thinking, “I guess they are so Zen-like that someone tearing down their entire Zen Center doesn’t even phase them in the slightest.” I couldn’t help but consider leaving.  But surprisingly, I didn’t.  I focused on the fact that that moment had passed, and now I was in this moment. 

About five minutes later, I got up and joined the walking circle.  Ow.  My ankle hurt with each step but I wasn’t about to give up. The whole time I was walking I was wishing I was sitting; the whole time I was sitting I was wishing I was walking. When it was time to get back on the horse...or uh, mat....I changed my seated position in hopes that my legs wouldn’t fall asleep again and that it wouldn’t irritate my now injured ankle. To my surprise, I got back in focus, Zen’d out and finished that four hour Meditation Retreat, or what I would call Meditation Marathon.  And I actually enjoyed it.  I know that sounds crazy, but there was something so beautiful about this experience and I was left with wanting more.  

As soon as my husband and I silently got into the car, buckled our seat belts, and started driving, we bust out laughing so hard we were nearly crying.  Our voices seemed so loud after four hours of silence. “You almost took that place down!” my husband heckled.  I couldn’t even respond I was laughing so hard.

Apparently, my lesson in Zen was being able to laugh at myself.  Mission accomplished.  


Callie Kerr - Guest Blogger

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