Day Long Mindfulness Meditation Retreats

I don’t always look forward to my bi-monthly day long mindfulness meditation retreats.  In fact, once upon a time, my mind used to come up with any old excuse to avoid going.  It wasn’t hard to find a whole host of good reasons not to go; being a busy mom, wife and business owner and trying to squeeze in a whole day of practice is not as easy feat.  I’m very lucky that my husband regularly reminds me of my commitment and intention to attend these regular day long practices.  I don’t always appreciate his reminding me in the moment, but I’m always grateful afterwards.

In today’s sitting meditation, I heard an analogy that really resonated with me.  It was one that I had heard many times in the past, but for some reason today, it stuck with me, which is the analogy that practicing mindfulness meditation is similar to training a puppy – both require large and equal amounts of patience and persistence.  Today during the periods of sitting practice, I was frequently visited by one of the “5 hindrances” today, which was that of physical agitation/restlessness.  To be honest, I am not very familiar with this visitor.  I now understand why people are encouraged to wear loose-fitting clothing.  Never again will I wear jeans to an all-day meditation because the discomfort, and subsequent agitation, proved to make my mind much more unsettled, thereby creating quite a bit more struggle than what I’m used to.  Not that there’s anything wrong with struggle because I now know, after years of practice, that even when struggle is present, that’s okay – they key is simply to notice it, bring an affectionate curiosity to the physical sensations in the body and to work patiently and wisely with it.  There are no ‘failures’ or ‘successes’ when it comes to mindfulness practice, no matter how much or how little struggle shows up.

At the beginning of the day, during my walking meditations, I noticed that my mind kept jumping ahead to unresolved issues in my life, i.e., a conversation that I need to have with a friend who is going through a tough time right now, trying to work out a solution to an issue at work, upcoming presentations and a recurring thought that I need to start writing a blog about my experiences (I’m glad I didn’t forget that one, otherwise this would never have happened!).   I became aware of the fact that each time my mind sped up, the pace of my walking sped up.  I played with this and realized that it worked conversely as well.  If I consciously slowed down my pace and diligently brought my attention down into my legs and feet, walking deliberately, walking with presence and observing the physical sensations, the thoughts quickly passed.  I was able to sustain my attention in the present moment for longer periods of time.

All in all, I am glad I dedicated my Saturday to my mindfulness practice.  Sometimes I leave one day retreats being keenly aware of the benefits that I received from the day.  Other times it’s not as clear.  Sometimes an insight will arise later on in the evening, and sometimes not until days later.  Either way, the more I practice, the more I understand the importance of persistence and regular practice.  To borrow Jon Kabat-Zinn’s sentiments, he describes these practices as like “weaving a parachute”.  We don’t want to start practicing when we are in difficulty and need to jump out of the airplane.  We want to be weaving the parachute morning, noon and night, so that when we need the support of mindfulness practice, it has a better chance of supporting us. 

Angie Kingma