Tuesday Artist Date: Love, joy, and being with myself

Sangha sketches

From my journal

Shortly after VONA, the lovely Niki invited me to a half-day meditation retreat for women of color at the East Bay Meditation Center. I was awash in love and creativity and delighted to sign up for the retreat… but that was two months ago, and in the meantime life has caught me up. I’ve gotten more tired, more busy, and more bogged down in projects, and I spent all of last week resenting that I had committed to spend four hours at the retreat. And yet I couldn’t bring myself to cancel. I thought, “If I am this resistant to taking four hours for myself on a Saturday, that means I need it badly.” And so it proved.


EBMC is the space on the right, with the prayer flags in the windows

The last meditation retreat I went to was at gorgeous, expansive Spirit Rock in Marin, where deer and turkeys wander the grounds and people come to stay for weeklong residencies. At EBMC, the entire center is only one room (with a little attached office and two restrooms), tucked away at the end of a commercial building on Broadway in downtown Oakland. But the feeling of community there was far more tangible than what I felt at Spirit Rock. As we meditated to the sounds of traffic and construction, I was reminded of the street noise and sirens I’d hear at my yoga studio in LA, another urban sanctuary of calm and community.

EBMC video

Watch a video about EBMC, including stills of the center and remarks by the retreat's teacher

The topic of the retreat was love and joy, and how to find happiness in the success of others (you could say “in spite of the success of others”!). So we talked a lot about envy, about our tendency to compare ourselves with friends or coworkers, about savoring the moment, and about becoming our true selves. There were about fifty women in the room, of all ages and all colors, and there was so much wisdom and support I felt it all around me, lifting me up.

The meditation itself was difficult, more difficult than it had been at Spirit Rock. I find it harder to sit still with myself these days. Moreover, I notice I’m not as easy with others as I once was; even when I’m feeling so much love and connection with those around me, I feel reluctant to reach out. When the retreat ended I wanted to hug every single one of those beautiful women, and I especially wanted to seek out the ones who’d said things that resonated a lot with me… but I didn’t. I thought about how once upon a time I opened myself up to everyone — or at least made an effort to — and I wondered, what’s happened to me? The comparison discomfited me so much that it made me even less able to meet people’s eyes on the sidewalks or on BART.

I started to analyze the change, and then stopped. I had been reading Pema Chödrön’s Start Where You Are and she says that when we think about things, we tell ourselves all these stories and make our personal dramas into such big deals, when really there is nothing there but what we’ve invented. I decided that if I got into trying to find a reason for why I’m so uptight these days, I’d get wrapped up in those reasons and my brain would just go round and round like it always does, and then I’d have another worry to add to my mile-high stack of them. So I just sat with my uncomfortable feeling for a while, not analyzing, just feeling it.

I thought about how I get inspiration for artist dates by checking in with myself, and it struck me that maybe I should be doing this every day instead of just on Tuesdays. Why not start every morning with “how do I feel today” and “what would I like to do”? At that moment I decided on a radical course of action: to take an hour just to be with myself, every morning and every evening. At first I was going to say half an hour but I decided I deserved more than that. A couple of weeks ago I tracked how much I played Chocolatier in one day and it ended up being four hours (most of that after 5 PM when I started feeling too tired to do anything else). If I can sacrifice four hours of a day without even thinking about it, then I can just as equally choose to give myself two hours every day, mindfully and lovingly.


A tool for me-time: Voluspa three-wick Makassar Ebony & Peach candle

I made this resolution, and then mere minutes later I thought, “This is crazy!” But I’ve decided to stick to it. I started the evening I got back from the EBMC retreat, and I’ve kept it up since then. It is unsettling to realize I don’t really know how to nurture myself, but slowly, I believe these two hours a day are teaching me. I observe, meditate, do yoga, pet the cats, and just sit quietly and learn what’s happening inside me when I’m not go-go-going all the time (or feeling guilty because I think I should be go-go-going and instead I’m just playing computer games!). I can hope this new habit will bring me more peace, clarity, productivity, physical fitness, and a decluttered home… but as the Buddhists advise, I will abandon all attachment to outcome and just do the practice. And that is a practice in itself.