At first I felt uncomfortable. Then guilty.
After checking in for the week-long silent retreat at the Buddhist meditation center tucked away in the rolling hills of Northern California, I returned to the registration desk to ask the kind man for a key to my room. According to the welcome letter, I was "invited to request a key" if I wanted one because they don't automatically hand them out. [NOTE: A Buddhist retreat is not a hotel, in case you were wondering]. He pulled out a sheet of paper with the room numbers listed where I could sign for the key.
Mine was the only signature on the page.
I took the brass key on the red, stretchy wrist bracelet and thanked him, then made a quick exit. Just the taking of it made me uncomfortable, like I had already failed some kind of test. But I reasoned that I needed to lock my room because I had my iPhone, iPad, wallet, and thousands of dollars worth of cancer medication that might be mistaken for something with juicy street value by a would-be ransacker. I was just being prudent, I told myself (even though I had brought with me the exact things I was asked to leave at home, but that's another story). You know what they say, "trust in God, but tie your camel." Or maybe it's just my wife who says that . . . anyway, it always makes me laugh.
The door locking/unlocking thing went on for several days. I had my own room, as did many others in our small residence dorm, but I noticed that no one else was using a key. They all came and went as if without a care, leaving their doors closed, but unlocked. I found myself wadding up the stretchy bracelet and hiding it in the palm of my hand as I came and went, shoving the entire thing in the pocket of my sweater as soon as the door was safely locked and I was on my way out of the building. But as the hours and days passed, the key felt like it weighed a hundred pounds. Just the having of it felt like a burden -- like a boat anchor, or an old, leathery skin I could not shed.
I had trust issues. And it showed.
Whenever it started I can't be sure, but I had reached full adulthood with more trust issues than any one person should have to bear. Maybe it was the constant mischief at work over two decades of law practice -- promises made without concern as to whether they were kept. One good deed deserved not another, but a stab in the back. Maybe this is where "CYA" (cover-your-ass) memos became a way of life. No one could be trusted. Not the lawyers, not the clients, not my ex. None of them. People steal things, constantly. The world is a desperate place. Leave your car unlocked and somebody takes your smelly gym shoes. Leave your house unlocked and there goes your flat screen television. And your watch. Oh hell, lock them both and somebody will break in anyway. And if it hasn't happened already, it will.
But the burden of constantly looking over my shoulder, accounting for every minute, of protecting every asset, of keeping watch lest someone take, take, take, had grown heavier than I had realized. Creeping into my retreat consciousness came the awareness that I had really wrapped myself around the axle. I mean, if you can't trust your fellow yogis at a meditation retreat, then who can you trust?
Ultimately I succumbed, and mid-week I finally hung the key on the back of the door handle and headed off to the last meditation sitting for the day, door unlocked.
I can't begin to tell you what a relief it was not to have to worry about the embarrassment of being seen with a room key or unlocking my door with it (as if any other retreatant was watching me, which they weren't!), or worrying if someone was going to take my things. Just letting go of that concern cleared the way for so many other moments of realizing how different my life could be if I just relaxed a little. Trusted a little. Took a risk on a kinder, gentler way of life. Now that's not to say I'll be strolling down a dark alley alone any time soon, but life is so much quieter when the underlying buzz of paranoia that comes from being constantly watchful and on guard all the time is gone.
And all it took was one small thing.
Unlocking the door.