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What the hell am I doing here? (WMRI retreat, day 1)

I ponder this while chugging coffee at 6am at the Gare de Lyon in Paris, waiting for the train to Montpellier to start my meditation retreat.

It seemed like a really good idea on that freezing winter night in New York City, when I booked my spot. Warm, sunny, South of France, (sunny)! Sold! It was great for the next few months as I fantasized at my desk (and bragged to my co-workers) about the amazing retreat I was going on and all the inner peace I was gonna get.

However, now I am actually here, giving up a beach holiday and fruity drinks, for what I am now told is a NOT sunny, NOT warm retreat. So… what the hell am I doing here?

This seems to be the topic du jour at the welcome session of the retreat this evening. The instructor asks us to reflect on what brought us here and what we expect from this experience. I come up with a list of expectations – which all seem more cliché than anything else.

Then, we turn to our neighbor and share our thoughts. Luckily mine speaks English (also French, German and Russian). I recite my list of “wants”: I want to anchor my practice more solidly in my life. I want to be free of fear, to be more compassionate and of course, to find inner peace. Then it’s her turn. She says simply, “I really love the idea that my practicing can benefit all sentient beings.” Damn. I totally forgot about all sentient beings.

Now I feel guilty. To be perfectly honest, I really haven’t come here for all sentient beings. I’ve just come for me. I start thinking about how selfish I am, about how even my motivation is incorrect, and how I’m a shitty candidate for the bodhisattva position. Then I get annoyed with my constantly critical mind, and its never ending fault finding. You’re in friggin France! I tell myself. Can’t you give it a rest?

All of a sudden I realize what I really need out of this retreat. It’s not any of the things I came up with. All I need right now, is to be kinder. Not to all sentient beings, not even to my tri-lingual neighbor. Just to me. I would like to stop focusing on all my flaws and how far from perfect I am. Maybe I can even start being at peace with who I already am, if only for these few days.

I start to feel grateful that to be at this retreat, so I can work on this. I feel grateful that I have figured out what the hell I’m doing here. It’s cold outside, all I’ve packed are tank tops and this not at all the sunny vacation I pictured on that February night in New York. But at this moment I’m pretty happy to be here. I reprogram my intention inside the temple and I feel inspired.