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Meditation Retreat Confessions: One Mother's Suffering

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Okay, so the title is a bit misleading here... I haven't actually gone on the retreat yet. That being said, I'm all signed up and preparing my husband and two young sons for five days without mommy. Yep. You heard it. Silence. Five whole days. Need to find your baseball glove? Want a glass of milk? Trouble with your homework? Find dad. He's your guy.

A little background about my relationship to mindfulness practice and meditation will tell you that I have been at this stuff consistently for about six years. Prior to this time I hopped on and off my spiritual path, only slightly recognizing the signs that were gently nudging me to stay put. This journey started at the ripe old age of 36, when I had one son barely off to preschool and the other barely out of the womb. My spiritual practices have always been cleverly snuck in between preparing meals, career and "life as it presents itself" in general.

I took seriously my centering practice and practiced it over and over again until it began to "do me" rather than me "doing it." My daily 10- to 40-minute meditations at home had to suffice in length just as they were, and the timing couldn't possibly be "same time, same place" each day as the books and teachers suggested. I attended day-longs and weekend retreats when I could, and spent countless "mommy" days exploring things like the enneagram, energy healing and working to become an observer of my mind. I've done my practices and spiritual work in the best way I could being a working mother of two and have worn that badge honorably.

So here I am. Six years later and getting ready for five days in silence. I'm finally going to join that elusive club of individuals who have taken the time and made space in their lives for deeper practice. Regardless of how dedicated I have been to my practice, a part of me believes I'm just not the real deal until I suffer in silence for longer periods of time (writing this statement makes it sound all the more ridiculous).

You might ask what is going through my mind right now. I'm wondering if my body will ache or if old emotions will take me over after coming to the surface. Will five days seem eternally long or will the time fly? How much will I miss my family? Please let my plants and flowers survive my absence. Will my husband feed the dogs?

All of these things and much more have gone through my mind in contemplating this time away, but nothing prepared me for how I would feel when I read these words: "This is a fragrance-free retreat. Please do not bring any products with any sort of scent." What? No products with scent? Do these people have any idea how I adore my day cream with cucumber? My ever-so-rich and luxurious night cream? I have special shampoo and conditioner with no sulphates for crying out loud! Do I have to leave my rose cheek stain home as well? Where am I going to find the time to discover fragrance-free products I like in the next seven days?

Now, I know how terrible being concerned about this fragrance thing all sounds. I swear I'm a down-to-earth gal who is dedicated to her practices and committed to helping raise consciousness in myself and the world. I'm a self-proclaimed spiritual person for God's sake! Yet my attention just keeps going there.

When the part of me who observes my thinking finally caught up to my thoughts around this subject, I immediately felt embarrassed for myself and utterly horrified at my pathetic "first-world problems." After all of this practice, are these really the things that have me believing I'm suffering?

The truth is, I am suffering around these uncertainties and I'm working on finding kindness, compassion and curiosity around my thoughts rather than beating myself up about them. I'm hoping to own the fact that I appreciate the creature comforts in life... perhaps even more than I thought I did. The reality is, that the only thing worrying me more than the fragrance-free dilemma is wondering who my roommate might be. I'm a light sleeper. What if they snore? Oh, dear.

I mentioned my dilemma to a dear friend and also to the teacher who will be leading the retreat. Their reactions close to mirrored one another. What I saw in their faces or heard in their voices was pure fascination and interest in this part of me. Their reactions helped me see the humor in my worries, but more importantly, to be able to hold them lightly. I have a sweet knowing that this is all part of my conscious awakening. It sounds silly to say now, but I have greater clarity that the essence of who I truly am does not include any products -- fragrance free or otherwise. But isn't it curious this mind and sense of self I inhabit?

I can't say I won't spend at least a bit of time perusing the aisles of Whole Foods this week to uncover the fragrance-free product gems, but I'll also spend time reflecting on what it will be like to sit in silence long enough for a bit more of my ego to unwind and to observe it lovingly and with less horror than I have in the past. And even though staying in the present is what we are after here. I just might think about my next retreat -- the one where I have my own room and can bring most of my creature comforts with me.

For more by Michelle Gale, click here.

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