Being Retreat Sit Leader

Last night, we finished our week long meditation retreat. It was my first time on retreat as the “Operations” role which includes being the sit leader and taking care of everything. The sit leader keeps time, correct people’s posture, wakes up sleepy folks, and so on. And, there’s just a ton of random stuff in a given week to deal with. Some examples:

Wasps in the cabins? I’ll get some duct tape and mosquito netting.
Chores needing to be assigned? I’ll work on it.
Sink not working? I’ll plunge it.
Naked people running around on our grounds? I’ll figure something out.

The retreat was a new opportunity to integrate both the enlightening meditation and the responsible work at the same time. It was also extremely difficult.

On one hand, every day I was able to tap into deep experiences of flow, concentration, and so on. These days, I can often comfortably sit for more than a hour without moving. But, it felt like I was often resetting each day and unable to go any deeper than past retreats.

On previous retreats, I had few responsibilities. Therefore, it was always clear that any thought I had outside of my meditation technique was a distraction. Retreats are structured such that you only need to do your meditation. Everything else is handled. With time and disciplined concentration, I can notice these distractions arise in the moment, identify them as a distraction, and return to my meditation immediately. It takes time to build the momentum to be able to do that, but these days I can get there. Once that happens, the concentration gains momentum to explore deeper territory.

But, this retreat, I was the sit leader and the overall group operations person. So, any operations related thought I had seemed really legitimate. Thoughts like, “I should check people’s postures”, “I should see how much time is left”, “should I correct this person’s posture?”, and so on. These thoughts seem legitimate. Real concerns related to my role. So, rather than noticing them as distractions, I follow them into action or more thoughts. And, right there, I’m losing momentum and concentration.

On the final day, during my practice interview with my teacher, I realized afterwards that my ego was wrapped up in being too careful as a leader. Not to say being careful is a problem. But, my delusional, stuck self using my gift of deliberateness and carefulness as a distraction was a problem.

Also, there is a deeper surrendering possible by just acting without thinking about myself acting. The willingness to trust direct experience and my own intuition.

This is such a subtle point I don’t know if I can articulate it in words…

There is such a strong desire to know the “right” way to do things. And for someone else to tell me this right way whether it’s science, a spiritual teacher, or just someone else. But, the real truth comes out from real direct experience. I have a hunch this is the right way to do something. Then doing it immediately. Receiving the direct feedback of the result. And then I know more from my direct experience to make a better informed decision in the future.

One example would be, should I speak up during a sit to tell someone to correct their posture? The correct way would be just follow my hunch and receive the feedback without my ego having to be involved. But, instead, I spend minutes trying to tell if their posture is right or wrong, try to remember past times whether this is a chronic issue for them, hope that they’ll fix it themselves, convince myself that it’s not my job to say anything.

An easier example might be dating. Back in my pickup days, we had what we called the 3 second rule. What is the 3 second rule? Say you are at a bar or party, and you see someone you are attracted to. You have three seconds to immediately approach them and introduce yourself. After e seconds of hesitating, you already lost. The immediate action is so fast you don’t have time to get lost in your head. If you act within three seconds then you are spontaneous, authentic, and natural. All the qualities we want to see in each other. It’s very similar to improv acting. Just enter the scene without knowing what you will do and the spontaneous action will be much better than anything you could plan.

But, what do most of us immature people do? We see someone we are attracted to. We spend minutes trying to think of a funny line, assess if the attractive person already has a partner here, and maybe convince ourselves that I’m not actually interested in dating right now.

This applies to more than just meditation and dating.

What I saw by the end of the retreat was that some deep delusional part of me was using the desire to be careful as a way to keep me distracted. It knows me. It knows that I care deeply about not hurting others. And, it knows how to use that virtue to make me hesitate, unnatural, and doubting myself. It knows that I’ll start judging myself for hesitating and thereby even more distracted. [this is also a deep pattern in surrendered leadership when I do circling practice.]

Initially, I only judged myself for hesitating and thought I need to surrender more deeply to just allow myself to act without overthinking things. But, then, I realized that “need to” was itself a second layer of unnecessary, hurtful self-judgment.

I could cut both off.

Yeah, I don’t need to over-analyze things. Follow the 3 second rule and just act and learn from direct experience.

But, if I do take more than 3 seconds to act and start overthinking tings, well I also don’t need to harshly judgment myself either. In fact, maybe, I took that extra time because it legitimately needed time to think over. Not everything should follow the three second rule.

In either case, I don’t need to involve myself, my ego into the process. Just act. Or just be careful. But it doesn’t help to not act because I don’t trust my own hunches. To judge myself for being careful.

On the plus side, I’ve been feeling really great since I realized all this last night. It felt like a great weight lifted off my shoulders to give myself permission to be a little messy and not so careful with everything. And also to not judge myself for mistakes.


are you enjoying the writing? I feel a sense of insecurity that I’m posting what I consider to be very poor quality writing in both the content and style. This month I have so little free time that most days I have a hour to write, edit, and publish a post each day. Unlike FB, I don’t get any immediate gratification knowing that anyone is reading this. My brain starts telling me this is a waste of time not worth these 30+ hours I’m putting into it this month. Am I becoming a better writer if I don’t spend enough time with each piece to polish it?

Let me know, send me a line via email, FB, text, etc.