In my 20s, I had friends who were attending meditation retreats in isolated places all over the West Coast of the U.S. They begged me to go with them.
No way! I’d say. Hell to the no. I can’t sit still in silence, even for a minute.
You could say I leaned toward drama back then—I used to be an actress, after all. And I wanted to have as much passion and adventure as I could.
I searched for Happy Lynn in between sips of rosé at European cafes, waiting for a hot, Renaissance man with a symphonic accent to sweep me off my feet.
When I spring vacationed in Hawaii, I tried to find Laid-Back Lynn dressed in brightly colored sarongs as I fantasized about getting stoned with blonde, long- haired, surfer dudes on the beach. (When in truth, I didn’t even like to swim or smoke marijuana.)
I worked hard to become Enlightened Lynn by becoming a workshop junkie, only to realize I was still human and would always be given lessons and opportunities to work through.
As I searched outside of myself for my happiness, I avoided what needed to be met within. After all, whether we’re in India or Indiana our insides follow us wherever we go.
But when I was 35, my therapist—who was also a Buddhist teacher—encouraged me to come to one of his four-day silent retreats on Mount Baldy in San Bernardino. After so many years of resisting, I wanted to prove to myself I could do it, even though I was terrified to go.
It seemed impossible when I first started. It took two days to settle in and relax my fear.
About 25 of us sat in a zendo on black cushions on top of wood benches with our backs against the walls (Thank God, otherwise my back would have been killing me) for four three-hour sits a day. We would meditate for 45 minutes and then walk for 20 and repeat again.
We weren’t allowed to make phone calls, use the Internet, or read anything other than Buddhist books. The bathrooms were outhouses and the showers sprayed cold water.
When I finally realized there was nothing else I could do but make the most of it, my resistance and fighting slowly dropped away.
I learned that if I didn’t move and allowed whatever minor or major pesky interference to pass, I could reach the blissful space of joy and contentment friends had told me about.
When I caught myself drifting away from the present moment, I learned all I needed to say was, “Oops! There I went! No problem. I’m just going to go back.” Finding myself falling off focus, I just gently, kindly, lovingly, course corrected.
Eventually I discovered peace in the yellow pine forest; the pyramid peak of the summit with a steep south face; the highest point of Los Angeles; snow-capped across the road on a clear, bright day. I surrendered. I surrendered to beauty.
One night, while walking back to my tiny one-person cabin I stared at the moonlit trees lining the road.
There was a moment—a short moment, but a moment nevertheless—where I thought to myself, I could live here forever. I need nothing else but to be here. Right now. Where I am.
But soon I found myself craving a Pinkberry with dark chocolate chips, blueberries, and mochi, and immediately felt guilty.
Back inside the cabin, I wrote a list in my journal of all the things I missed:
The white, Egyptian-cotton sheets on my king-sized bed; lavender-scented, candlelit baths; cuddling with my beloved; chatty conversations with my best friends; dancing to loud club music in my living room; soft, scrambled eggs…
It was then I realized the ordinary really was extraordinary.
I came to appreciate the small things in my life that made me happy. I didn’t need all that searching to make me feel alive. I was already living.
After that first silent retreat, I continued to go back up the mountain three times over the course of seven years. Today, I sit at least an hour a day.
Meditation, sitting in silence, has become the place where I always find happiness.
What ordinary things are extraordinary in your life?
Which of those things might you do more often to invoke the feelings of joy and contentment?
Author: Lynn Newman
Editor: Nicole Cameron