For a dozen years, I attended a lot of meditation retreats. Two or three times a year I immersed myself in the practice, for week-long intensives. Before each new Zen ‘sesshin’, as they were called, or Vipassana retreat, I struggled with whether to take the time out of my life, my work, parenting, diminish my bank account and push myself to grow further, or to simply stay in my comfort zone at home. Didn’t I already know how to meditate? Didn’t I just need to place my toosh on the zafu?
These meditation intensives were usually difficult for the first few days. My knees and back hurt, I exhausted myself getting up at 4 am. I made myself nervous and frustrated myself going in to see the Roshi three times a day to answer the seemingly senseless question or koan. And though the structure was the same (get up in the dark, go to the zendo, have tea – sit – chant – sit – walk – sit – see the Roshi – sit – eat – sit (and that was just the morning), not one of these days or weeks was ever the same.
Each sitting was unique. If one sit was euphoric I would often go into the next sit with expectation of another euphoric half hour, but the next sit would inevitably be completely different from the last. At the end of each of these intensives, I was a different person from the one who had walked into the zendo at the beginning of the week.
After each meditation training I would practice diligently for a while and then my commitment to the practice would fade.
For the past ten years I’ve been a serious student of Live Conscious. When I participate in a Live Conscious retreat, I also find that I never step in the same river twice. I am not the same person I was in the last retreat. The people at the retreat are different than the one before. Some of the material is the same, but I am a new incarnation of myself – experiencing and discovering new and old parts of me, as I am now.
Live Conscious was originally taught by two pioneers in the human potential movement, John and Joyce Weir. They taught this way of living for 40 years. They called their retreats “Percept Labs.” John and Joyce delighted themselves with discovering unknown parts of themselves and further growing themselves during each lab, even into their 80s.
The day I met Joyce Weir, nearly 20 years ago, I was happily working at home in my studio creating and selling beautiful little objects called “DreamStones”. Jake had brought the Weirs to our home to meet me. After they left, Jake shared a comment Joyce had made about me. “Yes, Hannah is happy, but how is she going to grow?” I woke myself up with that comment, and signed up for my first Percept Lab.
I still meditate, however for me, Live Conscious has been a much richer soup in which to nourish and grow myself– more than meditation ever was– because I am not trying to grow myself in my own isolated private world, but sharing and witnessing my growth in relationship with others…which is more akin to living and relating in the real world Live Conscious, like Buddhism, is a rigorous practice that asks us to be very considered in our lives, but I experience the Live Conscious experience as much more joyful and celebratory.
Because one significant aspect of Live Conscious is a very intentional way of using language, my practice is no longer limited to periods of meditation. Every time I open my mouth to speak, I am practicing being awake and in the moment.
Growing myself, I believe, is my job. Making myself safe by staying in my comfort zone is okay for a while, but if I want to keep growing, I must return and immerse myself into this unique experience again. Like meditation, maybe more so, this is a paradigm that I cannot fully see or experience until I am in it. With each retreat, I grow and challenge myself, get to know, accept, and love more of myself, in a nourishing, non-judgmental environment. And so, I deepen myself.
After each retreat, I leave with a new sense of who I am and a commitment to speaking and living in the Live Conscious paradigm. Then after a while I find my practice fading and my tendency to victimize myself or judge myself with others increasing. So, I return and immerse myself. I dive again into this practice where I can freely be all of who I am and who I want to be. And as anyone who practices meditation would say, I am never done.