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Retreat, judgement, and distraction

8 Apr 2024

Last November I attended a 6 day meditation retreat in the mountains of North Carolina. Although mostly silent, there were Q&A sessions, a daily talk and guided meditations. There was also a daily poetry session, for anybody who wanted to to stand up in front of the 250 attendees and read either something they wrote or resonated with.

I’ve never been especially drawn to poetry, but somehow during this retreat an idea and some words just appeared. I scrawled the words in a journal, knowing that this meant I’d have to summon the courage to present it at the poetry readings the next day.

Previously I would’ve been too afraid to consider putting myself out there like that, but something shifted during that retreat. The fear of being judged softened significantly. Not that I expected that I wouldn’t be judged, or that the fear wasn’t there, but there was a deep understanding that it didn’t matter. There was an understanding that of course judgement is going to happen! But it cannot be personal. There is no one right view or perfect perspective, and the belief that there is is what makes judgement — both positive and negative — seem like it has any meaning.

It dawned on me that the only one exposed by a judgement is the judge themselves. It exposes the view that they hold to so tightly.

At the same time, there’s no longer any ill will towards that attitude because it’s clear that we’re all a product of circumstance. I’d held tightly to my own views, because I had been judged and mistakenly believed that there was truth value to that judgement. I believed others’ views had value, so I believed my own did too. Conflict arose not because of two different views, but because I felt the need to defend my views that I perceived so valuable.

One of the joys of meeting people at retreat when the silence ends is that many have seen through this mechanism themselves. It’s an environment not of positive views, but of almost no view at all. It takes effort to hold a view, and that effort is released at retreat. There’s a sense that nobody is trying to place you in their perspective of how you should be. Nobody is trying to find where you fit into their value system or hierarchy. Nobody is looking for their ego to be satiated. Everybody is just enjoying each others presence. It’s an exceedingly rare but freeing break from a transactional culture obsessed with competition, expectations, status, and value.

Standing in front of 250 attendees and reading something personal that I’d written only the day before was still terrifying, but to me marked a big shift. It’s the reason I’m able to blog again. Without the concern for judgement, creativity flows much more freely. What I’m learning is that the more that fear is faced, the more freely creativity flows. It’s not as if the fear is just gone, but doing it despite the fear makes the fear a little less important each time.

This weekend I’m heading to another retreat in the same style, so I thought it might be fun (and a little scary) to post my writing from the last retreat to mark the milestone.


The bell rings.
I ask myself “what is here?”
It’s simple.
Just this.

Just the raw, indescribable sensation in the belly.
Just the simple, ordinary sensation.
Of rumbling.
It must be nearly lunchtime. What is it, like 11:48? So there’s about 12 minutes left. Which means it’s been 18 minutes, so we’re more than halfway-


There it goes again.
Constructing time.
Without those thoughts there’s just the immediate.

Just the immediate sound.
The rain, the wind.

The silence.

The powerful gusts of wind whistling.
Whistling through the nostrils of the snoring man beside me.
Why come to a retreat if you’re just going to sleep right through it?
There it goes again.
The judging mind.
The very same one that’s judged itself a million times.

The eyes open.
Colours and shapes come flooding in.
The bright, open space feels like everything and nothing all at once.
The sun, filtering through the roof illuminating everything.
Illuminating… oh my god.
Illuminating those yoga pants.
Those are not meditative thoughts!
Close the eyes!

Awareness, presence, just this just this just this!


So much shame around a mere thought.

Nobody even knows I’m having the thought, I mean it’s not like I’m going to announce it to a room of 250 people.
I wonder if this is the shame-body Angelo talks about.
It feels like I want to shrink into nothing.

Just… disappear…

But the good news is it’s lunchtime!
Eating is an incredible experience on retreat.
The flavours and textures are so vivid.
The pure sense of taste just indescribable.
How could any thought capture this experience?
It’s so mysterious and unknowable and yet it’s right…



It’s almost as if there’s no place to…

Oh god poetry reading is after lunch…
What if I mess up?
What if I choke?
What if everyone thinks I’m a weirdo?

What if, what if, what if.

What if everything is perfectly managed in the unborn?
What if even pure embarrassment is an opportunity?
To look.
To feel.
To see what’s really here.

Because what’s really here is never a problem.
Distraction or no distraction.
What’s… right here?

Just this timeless, eternal, now.
Unborn, undying, endlessly moving yet forever still.
Not bound by space, not bound by time.

Well, at least until check-out tomorrow.

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Jordan West

Sydney, Australia

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