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I went to a Meditation Retreat for some “Me Time” & left with this Instead.

I’ll admit it—my original motive for attending the Level I meditation training, called “The Art of Being Human,” at the Boulder Shambhala Center was almost entirely selfish.

I was craving some time to be alone and focus on myself. I wanted to deepen my own meditation practice and gain a better understanding of the workings of my own mind.

The meditation immersion allowed me to work toward these goals, but the first day was rough. We arrived at 9 a.m., didn’t leave until to 6 p.m., and for the majority of this time, we were either sitting and listening to someone speak or meditating, with the occasional walking meditation or tea break mixed in.

My back ached as a result of sitting for much longer than I was used to. And I found it difficult to focus on my breath because of the back pain. I felt better after doing some yoga on the second day, and I ended the weekend feeling calmer, more appreciative, and more capable of recognizing my own thought patterns and refocusing my mind on the breath.

However, the Level I training gave me much more than a well-developed meditation practice. I also left the retreat with a greater sense of community, connection, and belonging. This surprised me as I’m usually someone who participates in a lot of activities but rarely feels a deep sense of belonging with the other participants.

Here are two important realizations from my weekend meditation that can help us create a sense of belonging in our own world:

1. If we give each other enough space, we can begin to be more vulnerable and honest with each other.

During this retreat, complete strangers opened up to me in way I rarely experience. What surprised me even more was that I was able to do the same.

Our meditation instructor’s discussion prompts played a huge role in inspiring each of us to share our stories. Not only did she provide stimulating questions, but she also encouraged us to follow a specific formula: one person would speak for two to three minutes while the other person would just listen. The listener was urged to not react—no nodding in agreement, gasping in surprise, or sighing in disappointment.

This made me so uncomfortable. I kept looking toward my partners for some sort of sign that they understood what I was saying, but received none. However uncomfortable this exercise made me feel, it also gave me space to get my feelings and thoughts out there, in the open.

We can apply this technique in our everyday lives. If we practice being better listeners and not instantly reacting to what a person is saying, we create more space for people to tell their stories and feel heard. I think this would translate into people feeling more supported, understood, and connected.

2. We have so much more in common than we think.

When the instructor first asked us, “Why are you here?” many of the answers were similar:

“To become a better father/friend/mother/girlfriend/boyfriend.”
“To heal my anxiety.”
“I don’t know who I am or what I want.”
“I turned to drugs or alcohol to connect with others/feel happy/escape.”

We all had similar answers to this one question, because we are not alone in our pain or suffering. This ties back into my first realization that if we give others space to be honest, we will realize how much more we have in common than we thought. We will realize that we are not alone at all.

My intention going into the Level I training was to work on myself. I wasn’t expecting to make new friends or to feel an intense sense of connection. But I think it is hard to not foster community when we’re in a situation that embraces vulnerability and honesty.

Everyone is struggling to sit still with their minds and bodies and just notice what comes up. Some people uncover things they’ve repressed for years. Everyone opens up to each other and themselves. People realize they are not alone in their pain. And with this type of work comes deep connection, community, and love.

We don’t all need to go out and fork over the money for a weekend meditation retreat to feel a sense of community (although I highly recommend it if you have the inclination or means!).

We can create community by first listening to and accepting ourselves, suffering and all. Meditation is a tool to work on this sense of self-knowledge and self-acceptance. Then, we can be brave enough to open up to others and give others the space to open up to us. Through this openness we discover that we are not alone in our suffering.

And this discovery is the first step to true connection.

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Author: Natalie Kirkpatrick
Image: Author’s own
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Catherine Monkman
Social Editor: Yoli Ramazzina

 

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Natalie Kirkpatrick

Natalie Kirkpatrick is a senior at the University of Colorado, Boulder, studying International Affairs and Spanish. She loves to travel and hopes to volunteer or work abroad upon graduation. Recently she has become interested in how she can combine meditation and mindfulness with volunteer or non-profit work abroad. She believes non-profit organizations and individual volunteers, who sometimes do more harm than good in the communities they are trying to help, could benefit from incorporating meditation and mindfulness practices.

Natalie loves to write and read and is in the middle of reading at least five different books at any given time. She loves to be outside, play with her dogs, and cuddle with her cute hedgehog. She can’t function without coffee and is okay with that. Check out her writing and art on Instagram.