One of my Livingston Fellowship goals is to find a little head space. What I really mean by that is personal time, but also thought some stress relief would be an excellent place to start.

Lauren ArnoldSo, my idea was to sign up for a short retreat at The Shambhala Mountain Center. For those that don’t know – the Center is based around meditation and located within a short 2-hour drive from Denver. This sounded ideal. It would allow me to get away without a huge trip and lots of planning. I also loved the idea of relaxing and doing some soul-searching to help with my leadership and Fellowship goals. Hey, try something new and move out of my comfort zone, right?

Being ever the Type A personality and quick decision maker that I am, I simply looked for a program that fit my schedule (refer to primary Fellowship goal of finding time. Sigh). I found something that said Level 1 training, fit my 3-day schedule and noted that beginning practitioners were welcome. Awesome! I’ll learn a little about meditation, get in some nice hiking, and have a generally relaxing weekend.

I arrived on a Friday afternoon and was given my program schedule. I quickly noticed the Center had the schedule chock full of activities with very little free time available. Not necessarily a bad thing, mind you, but I was hoping to escape on my own for a bit. The schedule included a class meeting at 5 p.m., dinner at 6:30, class again from 7:30 – 10 p.m. and back at it again on Saturday morning at 8:30 a.m.

Every minute was booked with a session. Hmm. That’s OK, I thought. I can go with the flow, maybe we will hike as a group, do some stuff outside – this will be great to have people with me to hike!

So I go to the first session. The classroom was full of meditation cushions. No problem, I was new to this and ready to try something new, but I figured I could sit on a cushion for our first little talk. I thought we’d probably huddle up, move around, gather for conversation all while exploring our inner peace.Livingston Fellow Lauren Arnold

The class began with our instructor welcoming us. She seemed nice and spoke in one of those nice, soft, relaxing meditation voices. I didn’t need to pick up the pace. I was there to relax, after all! I was hoping for a little introduction, an ice breaker or something to meet the other 40 people in the room. But, she reassured us that we could sit and chat over dinner.

The whole time, I was thinking, “Is this some form of punishment or something?” Nope. We were just going to sit for the next 45 minutes. That was OK. I was fine with it. I was hopeful that it would be a good start to settle in for the weekend.

But, then I tried to move my cushion around to get as comfortable as possible to just sit. I thought to myself, “I can do this!” So, I took a deep breath and relaxed right into my sit position.

Did I tell you that I tore a disc in my back last fall? Yup, lots of back problems this year and I’ve been on a huge rehab and physical therapy plan for the last nine months.

Fast-forward 15 minutes into the session. Agony – the whole sitting thing was really not squaring with my back. But I knew I could make it another 20 minutes. I was good.

We finished our sit and headed to dinner before coming back for our evening lecture.

I expected learning a bit more about the fundamentals of meditation. Why is this good for me? How do I begin? Nope. I was a fish out of water so to speak. I wasn’t so sure what the lecture was really about, because we were sitting the whole time – and yup, you guessed it. My back was seriously hurting after sitting on a cushion for so long.

I made it through the evening and we got released back to our rooms. I rapidly went to bed knowing we would have an early start the next day.

When I woke up the next morning, I was still hopeful to learn a bit more instructions into the whole meditation process. Just hoping some instructions would happen during the morning session.

Around 9:30 a.m., we were told we’d be sitting until lunchtime at 12:30 p.m. I figured by now that ‘sitting’ meant meditation. And that involved sitting on that tiny cushion in silence.

My back was starting to mutter to me in complete sentences…you must leave, you must leave. It was becoming my meditation mantra.

So my mind goes straight to where it needs to go – I started to plan my escape.

Am I allowed to leave? Do I even need to pack? Do I need to tell anyone? Should I just pretend I need to hit the WC and sprint directly to the car? Oops, stop by the room and collect my things and THEN sprint to the car? So, I calmly started gathering some things as if I needed a bathroom break. I dashed out the back door, sauntered across the yard to my room, and figured out how to gather up my stuff. However, the sun was pouring in my room window, right onto the bed. It was quite inviting given my lack of sleep from the night before. I laid down for a moment to fully map out my escape.

Five hours later, I wake up to the sound of knocking at my door. A messenger was sent to check on me and so I must confess that I fell asleep instead of meditating. Not a problem they say, we’re expecting you back. Oh yay, I thought.  I tell them I just needed to freshen up and I will be back in the “sitting” room.  I immediately shut the door and planned my next escape maneuver – a hike.

I threw on my boots, a jacket, grabbed a map and headed out before they can catch me and send me back to meditation. The hike was awesome! Interestingly, I still hadn’t left Shambhala.

I showed up for dinner and rejoined the “session” afterwards. I made the executive decision that I cannot possibly meditate while sitting (otherwise my back and I will just be arguing all the time) and chose to meditate lying down.

Suddenly, the whole world of meditation opened up and I might actually survive another 24 hours.

I came back to work on Monday and shared my weekend with colleagues. I laughed so hard in the retelling of the story that I realized it was all worth it. Perhaps my meditation journey wasn’t quite what I had expected, but it was definitely the right thing to do. Will I go back? Probably not. But I do count this one as a victory in the personal development column.