Upon my return from a 10-day silent retreat with 100 hours of “extreme meditation”, it dawned on me that the experience is reminiscent of coming off of a major alpine climb. Whenever I’ve come down from above, the world always looks different – or at least I am different. Colors appear more vibrant, odors are pungent, a feeling of accomplishment resonates throughout my tired body, I’m glad it’s over and best of all, I feel very alive, acutely aware and transformed in some way. Another handy side effect is I don’t take as much for granted, loved ones feel extra dear, simple moments are precious and my dog is more happy to see me than usual!
I let go of climbing big peaks and living a more vagabond lifestyle over ten years ago and with that, part of me has felt left behind and nostalgic. Last week while sitting on my cushion learning Vipassana meditation, I began to understand the restlessness climbers experience when they attempt to replace this passion with more “responsible” options such as family and/or professions. Sometimes we don’t have a choice and the path we’ve been on is altered forever.
If the root cause of human suffering comes from keeping our attention on our cravings and aversions, it is easy to become miserable in the process of this obsession. Most of us have a sense that true happiness and contentment comes from living in the present moment where the law of nature/life exists. We can know this, say the words and even believe it, but it is a monumental leap to fully live it. This is why people climb and now I understand, this is why people meditate. Climbing is a delicate balance between mind and matter as the body experiences pain, fear and the assortment platter of suffering, the mind is constantly working to create equanimity and ease the discomfort. I use this strong mental determination when I step up to a difficult lead and it is this discipline that commits me to sitting perfectly still on my cushion for an hour at a time, moving through each sensation as they arise, trusting they will pass. This sharpness of my mind points me towards the moment and nowhere else.
Climbers keep going back for bigger and harder climbs with the addiction to recapture this delicate edge where life feels pure and harmonious. At the point we can’t or don’t want to venture to those heights, how do we fill that glass? I am grateful for meditation, an opportunity that is available in my simple, daily life – the highs, the concentration, the challenge, the insights and the fulfillment all survive on my cushion. I never knew it was so simple.