I did it. I made it through. I had not predicted how it would unfold, but I made it through.
As you can see from the video above, I arrived in the early evening to a quaint little cabin, well secluded outside of Cottage Grove, Oregon. I unpacked my food, all of it chosen for ease of preparation and compliance to 5 Shift, and sat on the porch for a short meditation, approximately 15 minutes, but I didn’t have the luxury of a timer for any of my sessions over the two days. This first meditation was tricky. I was still feeling a little pent up from my drive and the mental distractions were many. I took a short walk down the driveway to try to unwind a bit before returning to the cabin for some dinner.
I cooked 4 Italian sausages in a cast iron pan and ate them with AltShift mayo. I treated the whole process like another mindfulness exercise – hearing the sound of the cooking sausages, feeling the warmth of the gas stove, feeling and tasting every bite. When my mind tried to wander, I pulled it back to the sensations of each moment. I followed the same course as I cleaned up after I finished eating, then I returned to the porch to absorb my environment as best I could without ever leaving the present moment. I was not entirely successful, of course, and my mind did wonder, but I persistently pulled it back to the moment each time it strayed. I spent the rest of the evening in a green chair on the porch, facing the mountains to the north, alternating between meditating and mindfully observing. Sleep came easily at around 8:30.
The next morning, I woke at approximately 6:30 and took a shower. I found that it was difficult for me to be mindful while brushing my teeth and showering, probably because these are things during which my mind is always wandering and the habit is difficult to break. No matter, they didn’t take much time and I was right back into the thick of it again as I prepared my breakfast of 6 fried eggs and greek yogurt.
After breakfast, I settled into a rhythm of meditation and mindful walking punctuated by meals. They each came with their own lessons and experiences, so I need to tell you about each individually.
I estimate my longest meditation of the day to have been around 30 minutes, but I can only guess. As the day wore on, I reached a new level of control that I had not experienced in all my years of meditating. I would sit down, close my eyes, focus on my first breath, and almost instantly be deep into a very controlled meditation. After no more than 2 or 3 short sessions, my mind was so clear and so easy to control. It felt awesome and I had achieved this so early in the day. I was grateful to have already found such solid validation for the trip.
What made me stop each meditation was mostly the call of my body for me to move it. I can’t say that I am opposed to long meditations, but I have often thought about the possible negatives of so much sitting. I can only say that at this time in my life, I choose to not sit for such extended periods. When my body broke through the silence to tell me that I was getting stiff and achy, I would switch to walking.
The two biggest distractions that I faced were my family and you, dear reader. When my mind would wander, I would either find myself missing Sheryl and the girls or thinking about the same stuff that fills my head at home, which is how can I help more people change their perspectives enough to change their bodies forever. The fact that this would haunt my meditations makes sense because I have practiced this type of thinking for so long.
Sometime around 3:00 in the afternoon I hit a wall with my meditations. I could easily drop into them, but I could not keep my focus for long. I can best describe it as a feeling like playing a sport for too many hours. I was exhausted from all the effort and I just couldn’t keep it up. My sessions got shorter and a little frustrating.
I alternated between two tactics while walking. First, I would focus entirely on my body and walking form – chest up, shoulder back, core engaged, ribs down, plant the heel gently, pull with the glutes – trying to feel and absorb every sensation in my muscles. The driveway was short, maybe a quarter mile in the round trip, and I could sometimes maintain my focus in this way for two trips.
Then, when I could feel the need for a change of focus, I would play “tag and release” with my surroundings. Staying alert with all my senses, I named and let go of everything I could see, hear, and feel – crunch of the gravel, crow call, patch of dandelion, grasshopper, different bird call, wind in the trees, sun on my skin – doing my best to let each named sensation leave my mind as quickly as I had named it. This process proved challenging, but rewarding when I could keep my mind in the game for many minutes at a time.
Just like with my meditations, I began to lose some of my control at around 3:00. It was as if my mind was asking to be done for the day. I had a harder and harder time with each consecutive walk after that point. In one particular walk, I think my mind wandered more than it didn’t.
Sometime in the midmorning, I suddenly found myself wanting a snack. This is strange for me because I rarely eat more than 3 meals (often just 2), but I tend to eat a lot in each sitting, and I had certainly done that at breakfast. Six eggs and probably a cup and a half of yogurt was definitely adequate. Then, after analyzing my hunger, it fell away. This tells me there was something emotional behind it. I can imagine that if I were someone who regularly ate junk food, I probably would have eaten something sweet under similar circumstances back in my normal day to day life. I found this very interesting and allowed myself a few moments to ponder it. How many times do people eat things that are counter to their fat loss goals for no more reason than they simply didn’t take the time to think rationally about the “hunger” they thought they were feeling?
Lunch was slightly less than a pound each of sliced ham and sliced swiss cheese with more AltShift mayo. I would roll a piece of cheese and a piece of ham together and dipped the roll in mayo. I focused on the process with all the mindfulness I could muster, feeling the different textures with my hands and in my mouth, and thoroughly tasting each bite. When I finished, there wasn’t much to clean up so I returned to the chair on the porch for the next meditation.
Interestingly, my desire to snack returned again at approximately 2:00. I easily brushed it away, but then it came back at around 3:00 when my mediations and walks were getting difficult. This time I actually had to use some willpower to not eat something. I hadn’t brought any food that would have been a problem to eat at that time, but this didn’t seem like real hunger to me. Something else was behind it and I wasn’t going to succumb to a false signal of hunger when I had already eaten more food than many people on traditional starvation diets eat in two days. I spent some time, maybe 2 minutes, making this “hunger” the focus of my mindfulness, trying to see what it might turn into or tell me. Just like when I do this same thing with a random itch that pops up in a meditation session, it soon disappeared without leaving a trace.
Dinner was 4 more sausages with mayo, followed by the last of the yogurt. I struggled with my mindful eating/cleaning up process in this meal. By this time (5:30ish), I was well beyond the point where my mind had started to withhold cooperation and I think I was just mentally running on empty.
Wrapping It Up
The last few hours of my only full day in the cabin were far less productive than the rest. I tried REALLY hard to duplicate my meditations and walk from earlier in the day, but I was feeling frustrated and lost. Sometime around 7:00 I started thinking about my family again and I was suddenly on the verge of tears. I had become weak in those final hours and my own inner voice was having some fun with me. “Am I really the dad that I think I am?” “Sheryl is too amazing for words and I don’t tell her that often enough.” “Is this crusade of a career I’ve chosen worth it? Is anyone listening?” Yes, we all have demons.
I poured myself into bed at about 8:00 and fell asleep right away, but when I woke at 6:00 in the morning I was still tired. I took a shower, packed my bag, and left without trying to be very mindful about any of it. I think you can see my exhaustion in this video.
My meditation practice is absolutely stronger now. But I have learned that I have more work to do. My stamina is lacking. I think I will try an actual guided silence retreat the next time I conjure up the courage to try something like this again. I would like to eventually find another cabin somewhere and try this exact thing, but I think I need some help to get to the next level of mindfulness first.
Would I recommend an adventure like this to you? Yes, absolutely, but I caution you to be patient with yourself. Become a good meditator first and then be open to whatever comes up on your trip. Meditation is about being with your emotions, not stomping them out or bending them to your will. This will be important for you to remember when you do what I have just done.
I hope there is something of value for you in my experience. Go forth and be awesome.