You know that feeling that you get when you really, really have to pee and then do but your bladder’s been so full for so long that afterwards you still feel like you have to pee? Well that’s how I felt when I left my ashram.
I’d let go of so much while I was there, done so much personal investigation, released so much anger, shame, remorse and doubt and unloaded so much spiritual crap that even after I was ‘ready’ I still felt like I needed more time. I was advised that this was a common feeling and that the real work, the real change would come day by day as I practiced what I’d learned ‘in real life’. I trusted my teachers and advisors enough not to question this, so I dove back into ‘real life’ with all the trepidation that would come.
I figured I couldn’t get anymore ‘real life’ than New York city. With so many people so involved in their own worlds and so much energy bouncing around I figured it’d be like placing myself in the core of a nuclear reactor and trying to remain still. Best to test my mettle when I was still fresh from the retreat and hone my abilities for real world application. At least, that was my thought.
I did pretty well in the beginning, in spite of everything. I sat in my tiny studio apartment with the sounds of the sirens blaring and the abusive father next door screaming at his kids and the constantly broken radiator clunking away and I focused on controlling my breath and calming my mind.
I sat on the crowded subway being jostled and shoved and stepped on and I imagined waves of loving kindness radiating out from me and touching everyone. I practiced my Metta and imagined myself as the stone that drops in the water that sends the ripples through the surface.
I even walked down the crowded street and practiced my Karuṇā, imagining myself sinking in and becoming one with the flow of the crowd and passing on my state to all those walking the same path. I was the food coloring in the bowl of water that changes the color of the mass and my color was completely free from ill will.
But, the city was strong and I was new at this whole transcendence thing. It was a natural erosion, an inevitable weathering in the storm. And day by day, little by little, I felt my peace wear away.
It was so subtle that, had I not been mediating so much, I wouldn’t have noticed. But it builds gradually- the slight, split-second of annoyance turns into a minute of anger. The weariness of the day turns into exhaustion. The abundant flow of energy begins to run dry.
And so, I made a decision with all the intentions of acceptance I could muster. I bought a pair of ear plugs. And I have to say, although spiritual peace may be nirvana, man-made silence is pretty damned nice, too.