Home Base with Jeff Warren
Home Base with Jeff Warren
Teddy Bears’ Picnic
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Teddy Bears’ Picnic

Like waking from a dream.
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I haven’t been on a meditation retreat as a participant for over five years, since before our two kids were born. After much family finagling – and the great great forbearance of my partner – it’s finally going to happen this week.

Nine days of silence. 

I need it. Like many of us, my mind is fogged with worries. Family issues, work issues, housing issues, money issues, world issues. All the issues! They spin in my head like a tornado, whipping up dust, spoiling the crops, tossing barns around. I know you know what I mean. 

Illustration by community member David Kantrowitz

I used to attend long silent retreats at least twice a year, most often under the guidance of Shinzen Young, who's been like the Hubble telescope of consciousness for me. Shinzen helped me notice the complexity and (terrifying) authority of my inner world. The stream of images, the gradations of inner talk, the emotional atmospheres and energy flows. All of it pushing and pulling, creating layers of interference and distortion and enthrallment.

He showed me how to pay attention to … what … I’m … actually paying attention to. Which a lot of the time is, embarrassingly, myself.  

Like, I’ll be chatting with a friend, partly listening to their words, and then realize I’m also partly listening to my own strategizing about what to say in response to their words. Or once on retreat, vaguely watching someone walk in front of me, I realized that I wasn’t actually looking at this person. I was looking at a washed-out image of the person in my mind's eye. And I actually preferred the image over the person. I thought I was walking around in the world, but really I was walking around in a kind of projection about the world, encasing my head like an astronaut's helmet.

< Head-clearing shake >

It was like waking from a dream. 

Something interesting happened later that same retreat. After days of diligently observing my thoughts and feelings come and go, one morning in meditation I heard a long scratch - in my head, super weird - and then my whole inner world went completely quiet. 

<.......>

No subtle images, no neurotic talk, no preferences or judgements – no “content” at all. 

Nothing. 

It was like the background hum of the fridge suddenly cut out. The silence was a revelation. I’d never noticed how much noise was inside me, all the time. Conversely, when I finally opened my eyes, I realized that I’d never noticed how satisfying the world was. I didn’t want any part of it to be different.

I saw my fellow retreatants in a way I hadn’t seen anyone before. More detail, more character in their faces. Until then there’d always been a kind of tugging in my gaze, a subtle desire to be liked, or make an impression, or somehow manage the situation. All gone. I didn’t want anything. And for that reason, I felt a million times more connected. 

“You had a micro-enlightenment,” Shinzen said, when I asked him about it. “It's like a thin band between you and the world has snapped.”

The experience was peaceful and profound and I’ve never forgotten it. I‘ve also never stopped hoping to get back there.

Meditation is a long, long game. Stuff falls away, and ... life keeps happening. Interference builds all over again, never more so than in challenging times. And we live in very challenging times.

These days my thin band feels back to industrial thickness. It isn’t only the stress. Some conviction has crept back in, some hard-to-pin down idea about how my life should be that’s taking way too much of my attention lately. 

So. I’m going to meditate for nine days, and figure all this the fuck out, and fix my life forever so when I come back I’ll be the best Dad and partner and friend and caregiving mental health activist freak there ever was.

Or maybe that’s not how it will go down?

I’ll let you know!

In the meantime, allow me to guide you on a bouncy, slightly work-intensive meditation. There will be cuddly teddy bears! Can you simply notice these bears, or will you be instantly and hopelessly entranced by them, and hand over all authority to them  for the duration of the meditation and perhaps also for the duration of your life? Let’s find out.

There will be no Substack post next week, and my good pal Tasha Schumann will share a guest post and meditation the week after. I look forward to rejoining you soon, and promise to share a retreat report before summer is out. Wish me luck! 

Jeff

PS - What is the most mind-blowing insight you’ve had in meditation? How about the most ordinary? Sometimes these are the same insight. I love this stuff. Please comment below if inspired 🙂

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