Before I knew it, the weekend I’d been anticipating for so long had finally arrived. I was on a plane to Chicago for the 2014 Mindfulness Meditation Retreat, organized by Michele Gaspar, to see old friends and meet some new ones.
We were a group of 23, who had gathered via our connection through the Veterinary Information Network (VIN). We came out from all across the USA and Canada. Although this retreat was not a VIN-sponsored event, I’m grateful to VIN for supporting the development of mindfulness meditation through their on-line courses and virtual meeting space.
The backbone of the weekend was to develop our mindfulness meditation practice. Several times each day, we sat together in silence, with a focus on the breath and an awareness of our thoughts. Each session was about 30 minutes and people could choose to be seated in a chair, on a bench or to lie down on the floor. The physical act of sitting was challenging for those with hip or back issues. Many would agree the thoughts were always finding a way to pop up and distract us from our breath. But by cultivating this awareness, we were developing a skill to help us weather the times when difficulties arose during our work in veterinary medicine.
Meeting like-minded veterinary colleagues and developing a network would be important for the benefits of the weekend to continue on in our separate lives back home. We had some frank and heartfelt discussions about our professional lives. There were opportunities to talk and feel heard by our peers, without being judged or shamed.
Each morning of the retreat, I had the opportunity to teach yoga to the group. I forgot to reset my iPhone to Central Time so I lost a little sleep the night before the first yoga class. Not to mention that I had a bit of anticipatory butterflies! Even so, I wouldn’t have changed a thing as that was the experience for that moment. Several people had little to no experience with yoga but all were ready to try something new. As a whole, veterinarians are quite able-bodied but we’ll often power through any aches and pains. Because I firmly believe that yoga is for everyone, I offered modifications and options throughout the practice.
We had the most beautiful fall weather for our walking meditation on the grounds of Techny Towers. Paying attention to the physical act of walking, not rushing to get anywhere, noticing the surroundings. It was nature on steroids! I noticed the vivid colours, the shadows and sunlight, the feel of the breeze, the texture of the road, the rustle of the leaves. Time seemed to stand still.
I recall the sitting meditations on Saturday. There were two sessions where I could feel soft tears rolling down my cheeks. I tried to just be with it but I couldn’t and had to wipe the tears away (mindfully of course!). I tried to sit with the thought of where those tears were coming from. Sadness? Pain? It took me several days of subconscious reflection before I realized…they were tears of relief. I was with colleagues who understood the joy and pain of what it means to be a veterinarian. I could let down my guard. I could simply be.