Greetings mindful friends,
I recently went on a 5-day silent retreat and thought you might appreciate hearing about some of my experiences. I believe going on an annual retreat is part of the job requirement for those of us who teach mindfulness. On a more personal note, I was beginning to feel fatigued and unhappy. I noticed myself slide into unhealthy habits. I started binge-watching House of Cards, having a third glass of wine, and working too much. This signaled the need to reboot myself. Going to an additional yoga class was not going to cut it.
This is how I selected my retreat:
- I’m trained to teach Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), so I wanted to be guided by someone who would help me deepen my practice. I put my trust in Eowyn Ahlstrom, a highly skillful teacher from the Center for Mindfulness at UMass Medical School.
- I’m not Buddhist and knew a more secular approach would feel right for me.
- I sit enough in my every day life and wanted more moving meditation practices. MBSR includes four forms–sitting, walking/standing, lying down, and gentle hatha yoga.
- I wanted to go on a retreat that would be within driving distance. Spirit Fire Retreat Center fit the bill.
I registered for the retreat in January. Off I went on June 16th with 20 others who checked in for this adventure. We turned in our phones and agreed to not speak or look at one another for five days. We also agreed to not read or write in a journal. We shared bedrooms and bathrooms.
Our schedule was posted on a bulletin board. The ringing of Tingsha bells called us to gather throughout the day beginning at 6:00am. The daily schedule included instruction, guided practice, and time for individual meditation. We would seek out nooks to lay our yoga mats down and trees to stand under.
I worked with the sensations in my body, thoughts and feelings in my mind, and the sounds surrounding me. My breath was my anchor to the present moment. Over and over I would remind myself to relax, feel, and allow. When I felt annoyed because someone had taken ‘my space’ , I would say to myself, “He/she is a human being just like me.” I felt supported by our teacher and the community we were forming.
We had three delicious meals each day filled with powerful ingredients designed to support our meditation practice. Caffeine and alcoholic beverages were not on the menu. I found myself savoring every morsel around a table of strangers holding myriad heart felt intentions.
Most of us did mindful work. I wiped down the tables and counters, and swept the kitchen floor after breakfast. And I rang the bells nightly at 6:45pm calling us to our evening teaching. Mindful work time provided the opportunity to do a task and be present while doing the task. While it felt good to be helpful, the greatest gift we gave to one another was our commitment to practice—our presence. This helped us create a safe space to get to know ourselves better and to work with whatever arose in the silence.
While doing a walking meditation on day one, I met a turtle. For the record, I’m into the meaning of animals. The turtle is a powerful totem for protection. A survivor, it’s also an example of persistence, endurance, and determination. Another day as I was hiking a trail, I met a mother moose and her two calves. Naturally I thought of my two children and me. The moose signifies integrity. It means knowing who you are and what you stand for. I felt supported by the animals and nature surrounding me.
The day ended with chanting the Loving-Kindness meditation. At 9:00pm I would head to my modest room praying the anxiety of sharing a room with a complete stranger would not keep me awake. I allowed the loud composition of the chirping crickets and croaking frogs to eventually lull me to sleep.
On the last day we skillfully transitioned. First we began to look at each other and then softly speak. My roommate and I thanked each other. We took our phones back and ate lunch together. During the two-hour drive home I prepared myself to greet my family at my niece’s high school graduation.
What I learned is that going on retreat is something I’ll do annually for the rest of my life. It has strengthened me physically, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. I’ve recommitted to a higher quality personal meditation practice and have a greater sense of well-being.
We bring our cars in for regular preventive maintenance but we rarely consider doing this for ourselves.
Want to add a silent retreat to your bucket list?
- Bolster your meditation practice and find a local community to practice with.
- Consider a day retreat such as the one I’m leading for women on August 12th.
- Carefully consider what type of experience feels right for you and be sure the facilitator has the proper credentials.
May you be filled with Loving-Kindness.
May you be well.
May you be peaceful and at ease.
May you be happy.
Hope this helps you take another step along your mindful path!