“Who am I?” I asked myself again and again during the weekend meditation retreat I attended in August.
It was the first time I had been away from my five-year-old son overnight. For two nights I slept in a twin bed in a single dorm room, alone for the first time in nearly a decade.
“Who am I without my children; without my husband?”
For a whole weekend, I had no responsibilities except showing up for my one-hour daily “yogi job” shift, washing dinner dishes or chopping vegetables. With everyone else, I listened to the bells telling us where to go and when, and followed the sound. We were encouraged to seek refuge in the buddha, the dharma, the sangha. I’d been seeking refuge but not in any of those things. For a whole weekend, I was not defined by what I spent my time doing.
“Who am I without my roles: wife, mother, daughter, friend, homeschooler?”
We maintained noble silence, refraining from talking, reading, writing, nonverbal communication, and eye contact until Sunday afternoon. I sat silent in a room with 96 other silent people. I walked the grounds with 96 other silent walkers, silently greeting the same holly leaf every time I returned to the hedge. Pacing slowly across the lawn and back, we looked like disoriented zombies.
“Who am I without my voice?”
I sat in hour after hour of meditation, feeling my presence in the breath tickling the back of my throat, in the movement of my digestive tract. In spite of the pain burning along my spine, I fell asleep sitting up. I had moments-long dreams, strange visions that seemed strangely real, and caught myself before falling over. The breeze from the window raised goosebumps along the left side of my body.
Here I am, I thought. But—
“Who am I?”
In my room, a familiar face looked back at me from the mirror above my sink.
“Who are you?” she asked.
I had no answer.
And that was okay.
The post that helped me actually go to my retreat after I’d signed up for it:
- Spiders, farts, torture, and enlightenment: ten days in a silent meditation retreat by Torre De Roche at Fearful Adventurer