i went to a meditation training this weekend with an enlightened tibetan lama. we gathered early in a dupont circle row home on saturday morning--many practitioners, beautifully diverse. i had just spent a week holding a lot of space for some inspiring women during our amazing retreat to west virginia and then for my family as we go through some medical issues. spiritually i felt awesome, but physical i knew i was still depleted and i was looking forward to a nice peaceful dive into myself. then i met these delicious wheat-germ balls.
rather, i met a breakfast spread of all kinds of breads and cookies that were obviously made with love and concern for quality ingredients. i love this about spiritual potlucks. the problem was that i had already eaten a big breakfast at home of oatmeal and soaked flax and nice butter with a drizzle of maple syrup. this breakfast was meant to carry me to our lunch break at noon, as my breakfast usually does. one of my big health changes in these past nine months is that i avoid snacking. i've found that if i eat three solid meals, my body feels good and my brain feels clear.
in ayurveda, we call this connection between digestion and mental prowess, agni. it's said that one who worships agni--mostly but not overloading it and giving it time to properly digest intake of food before reupping--will enjoy perfect health. from my own practice of it, meal spacing is key to my feeling at home in my body and mind.
but i've also had a lot of practice at enjoying buffets and a strong mental story that i will not miss out on good food when it's offered, especially tasty wheat germ balls. ignoring my first thought to avoid them, i grabbed a ball. texture-wise it was soft with a nutty taste and a hint of salty caramel. i praised it aloud and then internally told myself i wouldn't eat another. then i did. then i told myself i wouldn't eat anything else until lunch. then i ate some trail mix.
i sat down to meditate and felt a burny kind of feeling coming from my chest. i've learned to understand this as a signal that my digestion is going off-kilter. it's especially strong when i eat a lot of sugar. using my learned techniques, i breathed into it and felt compassion for myself. then i made a plan to eat a light lunch. right away, i felt better and sank into a deep silence where i was guided through different levels of internal light and felt the great spiritual power of the lama.
then we had a break and i ate another wheat germ ball and a chocolate chip cookie. after lunch--which again would be it--i ate another ball, more trail mix, and a slice of heavenly chocolate avocado mouse pie with a date almond crust (again, love you yoga chefs out there).
when i sat down again to meditate, my body really felt bad. i breathed into it but i couldn't find relief or compassion for myself. i felt lumpy and right away a story started to pound down on me. it told me i was out of control and this was the moment where i would gain back all the weight i've lost and along with it lose my mental clarity--all of the benefit of the good habits i had worked so hard to achieve. again, we were being guided through the different levels of light and i could barely hear the words, because this voice in my head was so loud.
luckily, i know this voice. i made friends with her during a 10-day silent meditation retreat five years ago. of course, she had hung around before then, but there was so much other stuff going on in my mind that i couldn't quite identify her as someone that i had to watch. she's quite nasty, goes for the jugular in my most vulnerable moments, and turns my most positive qualities back on me as shame. she thrives on perfectionism and avoids intimacy--true connection--at all costs. i wrestled with her for days on that retreat. then, within the quieting of my my mind through the meditation techniques i was learning, i realized how weak she was and how much loves she needs. i let her into my heart but took away her deciding power.
remembering all of this, i listened to the lama and relaxed my mind. i reasoned that my body would be just fine and i could use this experience to make better choices in the future. i might still choose the wheat germ balls next time, because habits die hard, but all that awareness would be a step in the right direction. it also seemed like a positive sign that the nasty voice had emerged again, because it meant i was getting to some vulnerable territory in my mediation practice. i've learned that hanging out there is an amazing place of growth and connection. but it's hard work, especially when i romanticize spiritual practice enough to think i can get through a weekend of silent contemplation without a few tough moments arising.
after a good nights sleep, i showed up for the second day of the retreat with a healthy breakfast in my stomach. again, the table was laden with food--lox, bagels, sweet breads and everyone was enjoying them. i took a few deep breaths, poured some chai and checked in with the actual hunger level of my body, which was low. i wanted to enjoy the food but i also wanted to not repeat the previous morning. i stood in that tension until i overheard the retreat organizer say he needed someone to go buy envelopes. i immediately volunteered.
once i was outside and breathing fresh air, i remembered how the during the previous day, the lama had stressed service to others as being very helpful on the spiritual path. in that moment, i wasn't sure if i was serving the retreat by volunteering or if they were serving me by giving me a distraction from the minutia of my mind. either way, walking in the morning sunlight, those esoteric teachings seemed to be applicable and working some very big and human magic in my life.