I went into my recent retreat in Sri Lanka with incredibly high expectations for myself and for the group of ten people that would be joining me on this adventure.
It felt like everything was going to change as a result of this incredible opportunity for immersion in the depths of meditation and silence.
My actual experience of the retreat was that nothing particularly dramatic happened. I had some peaceful meditations and some tumultuous ones. I had insights and experiences of opening and by the end I was consistently resting in deep peace through the entire day regardless of what my inner experience happened to be.
But, there were no dramatic fireworks, no big shifts, nothing particularly earth shattering. Sometimes I would become aware of this and feel a sense of disappointment. I would be tempted to try to meditate harder. Sometimes I did redouble my efforts, sometimes I didn’t.
Throughout it all, I just sat hour after hour not making a problem out of anything that happened.
During the retreat I was checking in with people regularly and it seemed that everyone was having powerful experiences in different ways. Some were having big breakthroughs, others were discovering a sense of peace and ease of being deeper than ever before.
We had bonded very deeply in the sacred silence that we had shared and I was sad to see everyone go when the retreat ended.
It wasn’t until I was home that the true significance of the retreat started to hit me.
Over the first few days of being back in my house in Philadelphia I had the deeply disconcerting feeling that this was not my home. It was like I was walking around an airbnb house that I had rented from somebody else.
I looked at the books on the shelves and I wondered who it was who had bought them. While I was away a package had arrived with a book in it that I had ordered before the trip. It didn’t feel like me who had ordered it.
I kept looking at all the familiar objects in the house and none of them felt like they were related to me anymore.
I was profoundly free of the entanglements of my previous life. It felt like I could just float off into something completely different. It was disconcerting and totally exhilarating at the same time.
It became clear that this is part of the power of just letting things be as they are. Just sitting in silence, stillness and rest for eight days disentangles you from your previous identity and habits of being.
In and of itself this depth of detachment is not the true benefit. The true benefit is the shift in perspective that results from that profound state of inner freedom. In that liberated state you have the chance to consciously choose which aspects of your previous life to reengage with.
You don’t have to jump back into your life wholesale, exactly the way it was.
You return from such an excursion with a clear sense of what is truly important to your deepest self. You can feel which aspects of your life are aligned with that and which might not be and you can embrace those that are and let go of those that are not.
You also start to have intuitions and insights about new possibilities that you can invite into your life to make it an even clearer reflection of what you see is truly significant.
So here’s the big take away.
Yes, spiritual experiences are important! Those moments when we are catapulted beyond our normal perception of reality into vast new vistas of possibility are tremendously inspiring. They feed our passion for liberation and fortify our faith in the ultimate.
And…the time we spend in meditation simply accepting whatever experience we happen to be having is what ultimately liberates our consciousness and liberates us from our previous habits of identification and makes it possible for us to transform our lives.
What I realized so strongly during the days immediately following the retreat is that practicing having no problem in meditation is practicing liberated consciousness and that doing that for an extended period of time builds moment of freedom inside yourself.
So the next time you’re meditating and not having whatever experience you think you should be having remember to be totally content with that. Your willingness to be content even in the presence of disappointment is building a momentum of freedom that is liberated your consciousness.
Once your consciousness is free, you can look at your life with new eyes and embrace those aspects that are most aligned with your soul's calling, let go of things that are misaligned, and invite new possibilities that will move you closer to your spiritual destiny.