While living in Australia, I attended a ten-day silent meditation retreat. A former boss of mine asked me to write down what I expected vs what I really got from it and send it to him – he really thought it would provide him with a lot of entertainment.
The man that inspired me to write this recently passed away, I was extremely saddened by this, and it made me fish out what I had sent to him. Inspiring me to share this.
It was something I would not have written about, but his passing made me realise that writing about your experiences can leave you with something nice to look back on, making a memory vivid and creating a connection with the people, places and your inspiration.
10-day silent meditation retreat
What do I expect to get out of 10 days silence and meditation?
I expect it is going to be hard both mentally and physically.
I expect there will be moments where I will go a little bit crazy.
But I am going in armed with the hope that being free of external distraction for 10 days, I may be able to gain some clarity on what I want in life. As well as learning a new meditation technique. Pretty simple really – what’s the worse that can happen!
It has been several days since I stepped back into society and reality, with my back turned to the centre I had just spent the most challenging 10 days of my life. Feeling incredibly light, excited and wearing the biggest smile I quickly got further and further away. Every step creating a bit more distance from a place that had stripped me of all of the comforts of life and presented challenges resulting in moments that could be described as personal torture, to moments of pure peace and personal elation.
I have taken several days to gain the time to fully appreciate and internally analyse the entire experience and I now feel I can give it justice by putting pen to paper.
I expected it to be hard, I had heard whispers that it was not only mentally hard but also physically painful due to the long periods of time you need to sit and meditate. Many lessons were learnt over the 10 day period – a time that would normally seem so short but felt like an eternity.
Expectation is not preparation for reality.
Nothing prepared me for the excruciating pain I was going to feel at times. I knew to expect it but living it was at times more than I thought I could handle.
The long days started at 4:00 am, by the time lights out had arrived at 9:30 pm, parts of my body were throbbing and burning, with stabbing pains piercing through my back to my chest. The irony of the meditating style combined with the pain certainly was not lost on me. We had to scan the body from the top of the head to the tips of the toes. Paying careful attention to every single sensation in the body, good and bad, while remaining equanimous to all of them. Trying not to react to pain was challenging to say the least.
The mind tries everything it can to get you to give up and go back to your comfort zone. On replay in my mind was ‘This is a serious pain, you’re probably going to do irreversible damage, that would just be great timing, how well do you think you will do trying to teach children’s yoga when you cannot even bend over? – probably best if you give up on this’!
The human see-saw. Quieten the mouth and the mind begins to yell.
When you have the opportunity to truly listen to your mind, give it your undivided attention, follow the thoughts from their small quiet beginnings to their final unruly, overbearing and fully formed thoughts, you learn very quickly you need to regain control of YOUR OWN MIND.
To allow the mind to aimlessly wander unsupervised is truly dangerous. To protect your mental health, control your anxiety and depression and ultimately create your happiness, you need to pay attention to the internal dialogue you are continuously playing.
Believe me, when I say, I was absolutely astounded as to how flawed, ridiculous and damaging my own thought patterns have been. Allowed to run on a rampage for years, holding my hopes and dreams hostage, paralysing me with fear. This is what happens when your thoughts are ignored and given the power to become fully ingrained truths. You give them the power to dictate the direction of your life.
These thoughts result in destructive life patterns and while your attention is constantly distracted how can these thoughts be challenged? If you do not first take the time to acknowledge them, how would they ever change?
I have likened it to the old saying about raising children “To be dragged up, or brought up“. To be brought up love, attention and support is needed. To be dragged up, no nurturing, direction or care is offered and common sense lets you know the results of both parenting styles.
Now, when you are silent for days on end, there, of course, moments, multiple moments, when you feel like you are going a bit crazy – moments of which I had many.
Example 1: Eating dinner (of 2 pieces of fruit and a cup of tea), where you are not allowed to look at the person sitting directly in front of you, or beside you. Under this situation, one may become weirdly fascinated with how much a knot in the timber floor looks like an eye – weirdly fascinated.
Example 2: Getting the last bit of afternoon sun during a 5-minute break, before heading back to the meditation hall, standing on the grass, head tilted back, eyes closed, enjoying the sunlight on my face. Looking around and seeing multiple people doing exactly the same thing. Realising how much the scene in front of me looks like a brainwashed sun worshiping cult “Oh dear god, am I in fact in a cult?!“
Example 3: How good I got at taking pips out of a mandarin. Every single pip, before they ended up anywhere near my mouth. It took time, but time was something I had plenty of. Although, in my defence, this is probably a really useful life skill – “Note to self, add de-piping a mandarin to pro meditation list”.
Example 4: As I sit on my bed meditating, I hear dogs barking followed by a helicopter overhead. I begin to think to myself, “This really is like a scene from a movie, all it needs now is a psycho killer to storm the retreat… we really are in the middle of nowhere… if I was a psycho killer this would be the perfect place to stumble upon”.
Wait for it, my crazy mind is slowly starting to tick over, increasing in speed.
“Oh dear, stop thinking like that… maybe I should just open my eyes to make sure there is no serial killer standing at the window”.
“Get yourself together woman, pay attention to meditating would you, after all this is what you are here for”.
“Maybe I could just peek with one eye a bit, to calm myself down”.
“No you bloody don’t, you really are losing your mind?”
BAM eyes are fully open, repeatedly until my mind was 100% calmed down.
I cannot answer why there appear to be two voices in my head!
THOU MAY NOW TALK
On day 9 at 11 am the noble silence is lifted. Speaking again was a surreal feeling, not only the sound but the feeling. An internal fog horn would perhaps describe it best.
I then learnt I had been surrounded by some incredibly fascinating and truly inspiring people. A lady who worked in emergency relief for the U.N and had just finished 3.5years in Bangladesh, and was now travelling around Australia in her bright yellow VW van. A woman who had lived in a remote overseas village in a mud hut, helping to provide medical care to the villagers and the chief. Someone else had lived in a silent Buddhist monastery, people travelling the world living in communities and a lot of people, who like me, were at a changing point in their lives.
So in answer to your questions Mr T Baily…
What did I gain for 10 days of silence and meditation?
I can honestly say I gained invaluable insights into myself from 10 days meditating in silence.
I found a strong determination within myself, that I did not know I possessed. It is a powerful feeling realising if I truly commit to something, anything is possible.
Many people say this course is life changing. When I first stepped off the grounds I would not have agreed. But upon reflection, noticing the many changes within myself, I cannot deny for me this journey has changed how I view life, ultimately making it a life changing experience.
After all, they do say:
“Your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your life”.
A born and bred Southlander, I have moved back from the Gold Coast, QLD to bring my love of yoga, meditation, mindfulness and relaxation to Invercargill. Through yoga, relaxation and stress reduction massage and mindfulness techniques I aim to give people tools for their life toolbox, so they can live in the moment and take the time to breathe.