Four years ago this month, I went on a silent retreat. It was the first retreat I had ever done silently, and it was the first I had done for 6 days. It turned into 8 days as I made my way slowly down the California Coast alone.
On the first day of the retreat, I was asked to set a goal for myself.
I was painfully grandiose in my goal as I said to my adviser, “I don’t want to want to understand anymore. I just want to accept.”
I remember his reaction very clearly. “That’s a major goal,” he said.
“I know,” I said to him shaking my head. I had driven up to Los Altos very empty. I was very confused and in a lot of pain. I had spent life from 14 till that moment trying to understand why things happened, to force meaning onto them, and to create plans.
Somewhere inside me, I knew something wasn’t working right. It was stifling.
So I started the six days with that simple and major goal.
I let a lot go on that trip. It made me a lot free-r in some ways. It definitely wasn’t a night and day difference. I didn’t come home magically able to not care why things were happening or to analyze them. Nope.
But I can see the difference now. I can even see the transformation. I can pinpoint certain moments where I surprised people. I can pinpoint fights with friends. I can pinpoint moments where I wanted to end friendships because I was being questioned. And I can pinpoint other moments where friendships actually did end.
It’s only been in the last three months that I think I’ve made the most major of changes. At a time when things have gone colossally wrong in a lot of different ways, I feel that I don’t have a worry in the world. In fact, I rarely worry now. I know that bugs the daylights out of people. I try to be considerate of that, but sometimes I can’t even care about that. I hate to sound callous about it, but the certain freedom that I found would be destroyed even with the simple act of truly caring about other people’s worry.
I make new “plans” every few weeks. I think it’s funny in a lot of ways. I like the idea of infinite possibility. I like the idea of making my own decisions.
The one thing I didn’t let go of was looking for meaning. The difference now is that I don’t force it. Years ago when dreams and nightmares would plague me, I would suffer with them. Now, I just wait them out. I enjoy that moment of inspiration where it becomes clear. It’s that much sweeter than trying to force the meaning or the answer.
The best part of making that goal is I have been free to make decisions. I have had three jobs now. I have had amazing trips, alone and with others. I have seen awe-inspiring things. It takes me back to one of my favorite lines from Janis Joplin: “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” I always took it quite literally, but I realize now that it has a much deeper meaning. Freedom to me is not needing to understand.
It also allowed me to find people who have such amazing spirits that I can’t help but want to be around them and feel their energy. That life-giving force makes me sure that everything is going to be all right.
I think about these things a lot during the summer time. It’s the time I feel most alive. Maybe it’s because of the sun. Or maybe it’s because of all of the happy memories. Whatever it is, it’s the time that I feel most like myself. It’s when I can run away (and not tell people). It’s when I can feel the sun most warmly on my skin. And when I can see a lot more clearly.