I went on my first meditation retreat about three years ago. It was at a wonderful retreat center not far from my home. I loved being there in this house with small bedrooms, each with the simplest of things: a bed, a desk, a sink, a place to hang a few clothes, small drawers in the headboard of the bed for items such as toiletries or books. Each room had a window shaped like a church window through which you could look into the woods that surrounded the retreat center.
We were about a dozen who had come to learn about the benefits of meditation, how it effected one’s well being. For me it aided me in my efforts to live in the moment.
Of course, an important part of the learning was to actually spend time in meditation. We’d go to this small circular chapel and sit for what felt like long periods of time in silence. The struggle to get one’s mind from going off in all directions was the norm. We were there to struggle, our teacher told us. It was part of the journey.
We also practiced what is called walking meditation. The teacher rang a little bell and we stood up. He rang it again, we turned, hopefully all in the same direction. Then he rang it a third time and we started to walk. Now, “walk” is hardly what I would call what we did. Have you ever heard the expression “getting nowhere fast”? Well, walking meditation is “getting somewhere slow.” The somewhere we were headed was right back where we started and it took all of twenty minutes to get there. Note above that I said the chapel was small, maybe 40 feet across. That is a circumference of about 120 feet and we walked that in about 20 minutes. That is slooooow walking! Walking that slow can really challenge one’s balance. Try it. You’ll see.
I walked behind this old guy named Chuck. I loved this man. My experience of him so far on the retreat was that he was a mystic. He was always smiling unless he was actually praying which he did while he ate, by the way. I admired him and wondered if he’s ever had monkey brain. As we walked, I had to concentrate on my balance and keeping my steps really tiny. I found that if I took a step (or quarter step) forward while breathing in, and then stepped forward with the other foot (quarter step) on the out breath, I was able to go slow enough not to run into Chuck. Focusing on this movement helped clear my mind and I think I was actually achieving a zone of some sort…until I noticed Chuck’s feet. He had the biggest feet I have ever seen on anyone before.
I am not usually a feet watcher. I pride myself on looking into people’s eyes when I am with them. But of course, In this walking meditation exercise, all I could see was the back side of Chuck. He was tall, probably 6′ 5″. This explained the big feet, of course. He needs them from keeping from falling over. I just couldn’t figure out how a guy with such big feet could move forward so slowly. I started to notice his pace. Much slower than mine. By half. But with such big feet, walking in quarter steps would probably be too fast for this situation.
Needless to say, it didn’t take long before a giggle started to work its way up inside me. It was quiet in the chapel, no soft flute music like you might expect. I tried to keep the giggle from escaping , so its air actually came out my nose. So, instead of the “ha-ha” sound, a sniffle escaped. I sounded like I was crying, weaping actually.
In my former work, I used to conduct retreats for people, teens mostly. When I would hear a participant sniffling, I would think “Wow, this kid is really having a profound spiritual experience.” I have to rethink that.