Last year I travelled half-way around the world to do a month long retreat in Nepal.
Kopan Monastery had been on my “Bucket List” for some time and finally I was headed there.
After a long journey via Dubai I arrived in Nepal.
I was exhausted and yet I hadn’t even begun.
I’ve done many retreats over the last 2 decades, and although there is a little excitement of anticipation, there is also some trepidation.
Because the reality is they’re tough.
This was by far the most challenging retreat I’d ever done.
I was booked in for a private retreat, which means you are on your own.
There’s no course or schedule to follow, no group meditation and although I had access to a Nun for some guidance, essentially no teacher.
It was me, in my room, meditating alone.
After a few days of meditating alone in my room, I started to get bored.
I was over the jet-lag and my excuses for little naps here and there were now sounding rather weak.
In fact, I was becoming rather weak.
So I decided what I needed was a schedule to keep me on track.
I was excited!
That’s what was missing.
This schedule is going to make all the difference and it’s going to be amazing!
After getting the blessing of the Nun – who agreed it was a great schedule – I joyfully returned to my room.
After a couple days of following the schedule, I was starting to get bored again.
I revisited it.
Maybe I was being a bit tough on myself – was there any room to improve the schedule? Could I add in an extra tea break somewhere?
As I sat there staring at my amazing schedule, the enormity of this retreat started to sink in.
OMG I’m only 5 days in and I’ve got another 26 days to go!
26 long days.
Wait a minute it’s only 7am— if I include today it’s 27!!!
The thoughts came flooding in.
My heart was racing, I was sweating – my mind was spinning out of control.
I was panicking.
I just couldn’t fathom how much time I was going to be spending doing the same thing hour after hour, day after day, in this tiny little room!
At that point, I was sure I couldn’t do it.
And then after mentally torturing myself for about an hour, I had a brief flash of mindfulness in the form of a question.
“Is this moment OK?”
The next thing I knew I was out of my head and back in my room.
My simple little room, where I was safe.
I looked at my surroundings.
I listened to the birds singing outside.
So I answered, “Yes, this moment is OK.”
A few more minutes passed, I could feel the tension starting to arise so I asked myself again, “Is this moment OK?”
I thought about it. “Yes, this moment is OK.”
It wasn’t long before it was time to go to breakfast.
Mindfully I climbed the steps leading to the dining hall.
I stayed present – knowing that if I wasn’t vigilant those fearful thoughts would come right back again.
I got in line and filled my bowl with porridge.
I sat down.
“Is this moment OK?”
“Yes,” I replied.
I ate my porridge in silence.
I was OK.
After breakfast, instead of returning to my room, I went and sat on a bench in the Stupa Gardens (pictured above).
For 3 hours I just sat there and every 10 minutes or so, I’d ask “Is this moment OK?”
To which, I would peacefully reply “Yes, this moment is OK.”
I didn’t reply unconsciously, I really evaluated what was going on to see if this moment was OK or not.
And each time I did this, what I found was that it was OK.
As the morning passed, I felt deeply peaceful, relaxed and even quite joyous at just how quickly I had turned this situation around.
For the next 30 hours, except for when I was sleeping or eating I sat on that bench.
I was OK.
I was present.
I was happy.
The following day after lunch I decided it was time to return to my room and to my schedule.
I didn’t make any changes to it – it was an amazing schedule after all.
It’s Not This Moment You Fear
Often our fears arise because we don’t know how we’re going to handle the next moment – ironically causing us to panic in this moment.
This is where all the crazy stories get told about how “we can’t do it” or “we’re not strong enough” or “we’re not smart enough.”
It’s the birthplace of every self-defeating thought you’ve ever had.
Without awareness it can drown us with fear.
This is why mindfulness has become so popular.
Although it’s not easy to always stay present, keep in mind the alternative is being a slave to our most frightening thoughts and even worse believing them!
My scary thoughts were leading me to pack up my bags and leave the retreat, scaring me into believing I couldn’t do it.
So how did the rest of the retreat go?
I can’t say there weren’t anymore difficult moments – there were.
But when I lost my footing I would come back to this simple mantra, “Is this moment OK?”
With those four simple words I would release myself from the gripping fear of the future and allow myself to rest in the peace of the present moment.
“Yes, this moment is OK.”