“Why in the world would you want to do that?”
The Husband looked at me as if I I had told him I was going to shave off my eyebrows. In reality, I had just explained to him that I was going to a 7 hour silent retreat, which was part of my 8 week meditation course. To him, the thought of not saying a single word was unfathomable.
To be honest, I myself was a bit apprehensive about the whole ordeal. Being in a room full of strangers for 7 hours and not being allowed to engage in ANY eye contact or conversation was definitely unknown territory for me. Could I really spend a full day meditating? Would I get bored? Will I feel lonely? Will I fall asleep and drool in front of people? Despite the doubt creeping up on me and the Husband thinking I’m nuts, I rolled up my yoga mat and out the door I went.
Below I share the 3 lessons I learned from my experience at a meditation retreat.
1) You will get impatient. So remember to be kind with yourself.
Out of the 7 hours dedicated to being in the present moment, I probably was mindful for a total of 2 or 3 hours. A 30-40% rate of “success” simply doesn’t fly with me (hello Type A personality!). Despite my best efforts, it was so easy to get distracted and think about a million of mundane things. And the more distracted I got, the more frustrated I became that I was not being mindful. And then the feeling of impatience took over and I grumbled that I should be doing better things with my time as I’m clearing not winning here.
That’s the moment I realized I was looking at the situation from the wrong angle.
There is no such thing as being good at meditation. It’s not a competition. You don’t get some fancy certificate to say you’re an expert when you’ve achieved a certain level of skills (we Type A personalities love recognition). Meditation is, among other things, simply about being. Being aware of yourself and your surroundings without judgment.
It’s also a lifelong practice. I was ruining my experience by expecting myself to be “good” at it after a couple of months only. Therefore I let go of the judgments I had about my “lack of skills” and I thanked myself for making an effort to come to this retreat. As a result, this surrender and kindness towards myself made it easier to move past the mind clutter in the following hours.
2) Silence is not negative.
I imagined lack of eye contact and verbal communication in a room full of people would make me feel isolated and lonely. Like being at a party and feeling that no one sees or hears you. I worried that I would need to say something, anything! to make my presence be acknowledged. However, my experience at the silent retreat was quite the opposite of this fear. Although we didn’t say a word to each other, there was a wonderful feeling of togetherness emanating from the room. A collective energy resulting from the common work of people striving towards a similar goal. It is surprising how without my usual methods of communication, I felt connected to everyone in the room. I felt compassion forwards people I barely knew. Buddhism teaches us that the differences and separation we see in others are created by the mind. We are in fact part of the same Universal energy. While I do not practice this religion, I felt I was a bit closer to understanding this concept.
Because we were asked to be aware of our surroundings, we consciously acknowledged the presence of others. This sense of unity and belonging actually made silence comfortable and easier to maintain than expected (i.e. I didn’t have the desire to pull out my hair as predicted by the Husband)
3) Yoga mats aren’t meant for long sitting. Bring a cushion.
Finishing with some straight-forward advice.
Your ass will thank you.
Have you ever been to a silent retreat before? I would love to hear about your experience!
Much love and hugs,
Featured image photo credits: Chris Ensey from Unsplash.com