I kind of knew to expect a sense of anarchy from a retreat lead by Dharma Punx founder Noah Levine- a former self–destructive kid who transformed his rebellious tendencies into a movement that goes “Against the Stream” of the lies of society. The lies that tell us we need money, status and maybe even the right yoga pants to find happiness and enlightenment. What Noah calls “Capitalist-driven media crap”
I’ve been to Dharma talks before-usually at yoga retreats filled with upscale white people (usually about 90% female) – where the content is light and stories all have happy endings (and where $120 yoga pants are sold alongside overpriced mala beads).
This crowd was way different. Noah routinely teaches meditation in juvenile halls and prisons and one of his themes is “Meditate and Destroy“. He believes the Buddha was a rebel and believes the practice of meditation should be for everyone-even punks covered in piercings and tattoos. He says:
“He (the Buddha)stayed incredibly engaged in the societal issues of his times. He spoke out against racism and sexism, war, hatred and violence.“
So, our retreat was a 5 day silent meditation broken only by group discussions and a lead meditation every evening with a follow-up Q&A. For the rest of the time, we were either in sitting or walking meditation.
HOURS of it EVERY day.
6 am wake up then 45 minute sit-then eat-then walk-then sit-then walk……you get it.
The environment is intense, monotonous. You are not supposed to even make eye contact with others, let alone speak to one another. All 40 of us moved around, avoiding each other and the temptation to look up when you crossed in the hallway or to say “Thank you” when someone opened a door for you.
You wonder-why sit silently? Why move without taking in outside influences like simply greeting one another? Buddhist meditation is described as this:
The Buddha encouraged us to bring wise attention to every aspect of our lives. In sitting meditation, we have the opportunity to observe the mind and body at rest through silent introspection. In the practice of the 5Rhythms, we engage in mindfulness while in motion. The 5Rhythms is a map that teaches how energy moves. The two polarities of moving and sitting meditation together mirror the dance of life. In this journey we are always moving between these two spectrums. If one learns to not cling or avoid, one can hold the place of the silent witness and be with all that life offers.
Luckily, Noah is also a cool guy with a sense of humor.
We broke silence Saturday afternoon and went off to the Chapel inside of the retreat center. Even though the retreat was Buddhist and held by SpiritRock-the actual retreat was held at a Catholic Retreat Center-the Angela Center in Santa Rosa. So, every day, we had to walk past Jesus photos and cheesy Catholic posters.
This is where Noah gathered us to circle up and start interacting like normal people again. Then, the punk in him came out as he put on some music and blasted the Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated”
We danced and jumped and yelled and even got up on the stage around the 70’s Jesus with a sparkly gold sky behind him
“Twenty-twenty-twenty four hours to go
I wanna be sedated”
Both Noah and our other retreat lead-Wes “Scoop” Nisker (a practitioner of Buddhist meditation for over 35 years) GOT UP ON THE ALTAR and danced. We screamed and shouted in release.
Then we danced and jumped and grooved until-finally, we dropped down to the floor in savasana – light-headed from all the dancing after days of non-activity and light-hearted from the physical and emotional release.
After all of the hours of sitting together silently, crying together, wrestling our demons side-by-side but not interacting with each other- it was liberating to let loose, dance to punk music and laugh at the irony of a tacky Disco Jesus looking down on us as we did so.
So, you gotta hope (no matter your religion or spiritual practice) you REALLY gotta hope whatever higher power is out there-that he or she is really just a punk who can appreciate good music, meditating until you laugh and dancing until you cry.
Next-more on meditating until you laugh and Quinceaneras….