I took this photo nearly a year ago. Right before some chosen isolation time for meditation. In this one spot, in silence for 3 months. The world seemed quieter then, but (like now) my mind was loud. It has always been loud, but the noise was more obvious with less distractions and nowhere to be but here.
Back then I crossed days off a handmade calendar because I knew the end date. On the good days I looked at those numbers wistfully, and on the bad days I dug my fingernails into that countdown. And on all days I met my own bullshit stories, my fears, my attachments, my limits, the edges of reality, and the infinite capacity of any mind to change. Every day I was wildly aware of the privilege of this struggle, of the good fortune of having so much time to be stuck with only the mind and no escape.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that time this week. Of course, forced isolation is far different than chosen, but working with the mind is not dependent on time or location. Now the privilege is shelter, food, health - all present against the background noise in my mind that’s often tuned to chaos.
In the months leading up to retreat, someone asked me what I was hoping to get out of it. The word “nothing” spilled out of my mouth before anything more intelligent could come to mind. I later came across this quote from Mingyur Rinpoche, who puts it far more eloquently than my one word answer could:
“We practice in order to know what we already are, therefore attaining nothing, getting nothing, going nowhere. We seek to uncover what has always been there.”
What’s always been there is often accompanied by an ever-changing landscape that ranges from fear to gratitude, doubt to relief, overwhelm to presence. But the practice isn’t a matter of mastering the mind. It’s a matter of simply being with the mind, of watching the landscape change. A matter of returning to nothing. This is the forever work that takes on a life of its own, lending the name “meditation” to any moment of the day - mundane or extraordinary. So it’s tempting to say that I finished something in this spot and it’s always tempting to grasp for the illusion of certainty, but instead the practice simply continues.