The alarm clock rings. I get up, meditate, drink coffee, and stare at a display for the next eight hours. They call it office work. Then dinner, Netflix, sleep – and back to square one. Welcome to my hamster wheel! Wonderful, isn’t it? I could live like that for… oh, who am I kidding? I have had enough. I need a change of scenery. So I escape to a Meditation center for six weeks.
Welcome to Allgäu
The escape goes smoothly. As it turns out, I’m not only the prisoner, but also the warden. But no one ever tells you that. The getaway vehicle of my choice is an ICE train from Berlin to Munich. From there it’s off to a secluded alpine pasture in the Allgäu. This I where I plan to ask bigger questions than What are the deadlines this week? and Where is this damn file?
Arriving in the meditation hall, I sit down on a cushion next to the altar with the Buddha statue. Someone gently gongs a singing bowl. Its sound fades and gradually melts into the silence of the room. Breath. Relax. No calls, no emails, no workshops. Just me and my consciousness. Silence at last. It could be so nice – if it weren’t for my constant thinking.
The monkey in my mind
The first thing I learn in meditation: A monkey lives in my head, hurling thoughts around non-stop. The second thing: My thought patterns from everyday life followed me to the retreat. How charming. They seem to be glued to me. Or am I glued to them?
This is essential – for all of us. Our thought patterns color our perception of life. We do not see the world as it is, but as we are. We impose our ideas on the world and get angry when the world does not behave according to them. That’s kind of funny and kind of sad. We don’t even notice.
I am full of expectations for the coming weeks. I want to sink into deep meditation, bathe myself in dopamine, understand life and become terribly wise. Well, if that’s all, huh? In reality it is as if I were mucking out a stable. I gain nothing, but get rid of a lot.
The vet with the invasion plans
Of course, I don’t meditate all day. In the morning I work. Chopping vegetables, vacuuming the corridor, building a sheep pen, planting potatoes. Lots of body work, little head work. A welcome change for someone like me. Just that one time – it first turns heartrending and then bizarre.
One of the sheep is sick. Its eyes are clotted with pus, the animal is almost blinded. So we call the vet – an old gentleman with gray hair and more wrinkles than face. I, blissfully meditated, greet him and quickly notice the man likes to talk. On the outside, I listen patiently. Inwardly, I groan.
Before I know it, he’s in on a wild explanation about how Putin could invade Turkey with his army to “really clean things up.” Aha, I think. So the monkey lives in his head, too. I sigh with relief as the vet packs his suitcase and drives off.
Same hamster, different wheel?
The first two weeks are pure relaxation. The soul sighs with relief, the mind comes to rest. In the third week, boredom starts creeping in. Weren’t those exciting times when I was chasing deadlines? I catch this line of thought and respectfully nod to the monkey. He almost got me.
For me, a city and office person, it takes time to get used to the quiet uniformity of the days. Everything is so… simple. So uncomplicated. It’s hard to bear at first. Only slowly does the mind let go of its tense goal orientation and allows more space for relaxation. I am amazed. To feel peaceful, you don’t have to accomplish anything. You just have to let go. This is the revolutionary and simple secret.
After six weeks I leave the silence with one laughing and one crying eye. I look forward to seeing friends and family again. I’m even looking forward to working with my head again. I realize that when I live in constant movement, I long for stillness. When I live in constant silence, I long for movement.
I laugh out loud. Isn’t this dance we perform on the stage of life wonderful? We cry bitter tears, laugh with all our hearts and make life terribly complicated for ourselves. And yet, it can be so simple. Take a breath. Relax. Let go. When I get home, even my hamster wheel doesn’t seem so bad anymore. Let’s see how long I can take it this time. The next escape will surely come.