Silent Retreat Musings
I am so grateful to have taken the time for a silent retreat recently. It’s hard to take that time away from my marriage, but I think and hope it makes me a better partner in the long run. It’s something that is mandatory for my ongoing certification to teach Mindfulness, and yet I find it’s actually more mandatory for me personally, for my balance. Just like most of us, I’d like to believe I can live a balanced life. To me balanced means not spending too much time on technology, responding instead of reacting, making kindness a priority, taking care of myself, and being present with family and friends. But, I find even with my daily meditation and what I teach, the pace of life creeps in. Before I know it, I’m looking at Facebook, more than I want to do so, or not paying close enough attention to my thoughts and feelings, allowing thoughts that are not useful to take over my story lines. This time away from technology, just paying attention to what is really happening in my body and mind for those days is crucial to making sure I keep up-to-date with myself and the habits I’m creating. It helps me to notice when habits are creeping in that aren’t really beneficial. If I don’t take the time to notice them, I can’t do anything about them.
When people find out I do this, some ask questions with interest and curiosity, but most kind of stare uncomprehending. They just say things like, “Oh, I could never do that!” “Silent?” “But, what do you do?” So based, on so many questions, I thought I’d post a bit about what this is like, for those that are interested or can’t even imagine. Each retreat is different for me and each retreat is different for each person, but this will give a snapshot of what it was like this time for me.
This was my first solo silent retreat, meaning my first retreat where a retreat center didn’t schedule my days for me; where I wasn’t just moving in the same quiet tide of other meditators from sitting to walking to eating. This retreat was 5 nights, including the afternoon before and morning after, and I rented a small apartment in the country about 2 hours from home. Yes, I missed my husband, but no I wasn’t ready to return. I wanted more quiet, more time to cement these mindful moments into my daily life.
For those that are interested, following is the schedule I followed, my goals for the retreat; and what I learned on the retreat.
Schedule/Organization: I wondered, will I be able to follow the schedule? I actually found it quite easy. I don't think this makes me super committed, the day is long and silent if I don’t continue to meditate! Times are approximate, I generally stayed within 1/2 hour, sometimes I meditated longer than what is listed. I listed meditations as minimum 30 minutes, but most were between 30 - 45 minutes. This isn't THE RIGHT schedule. This was my schedule, someone else's may vary.
Waking 6:15 AM - I like trying to meditate before or after the sunrise, not during!
- 7 – 7:45 am Sitting meditation.
Morning Starting at 8 AM
- Make and eat breakfast, clean up kitchen
- 9 – 9:30 am Sitting meditation
- 9:30 – 10:00 am Walking meditation
- 10 – 10:30 am Sitting meditation
- 10:30 - 11 am Yoga/Mindful movement
- 11 am – 12 pm Walk outside
Afternoon 12 PM
- Make and eat lunch, clean up Kitchen
- 1 pm Study/ Read
- 2 – 2:30 pm Sitting meditation
- 2:30 – 2:50 pm Walking meditation
- 3 – 3:30 pm Sitting meditation
- 3:30 – 4 pm Walking meditation
- 4 – 5 pm Yoga/Stretches/Mindful Movement
Evening 5 PM
- Make and eat dinner, clean up kitchen
- 6-6:30 pm Sitting Meditation
- 6:30 -7:30 pm Listen to teaching audio
- 7:30 – 7:50 pm Walking meditation
- 7:50 – 8: 30 pm Sitting meditation
- 8:30 - 9:30 pm Read/study
- 9:30 pm Prepare for bed and sleep
Mindfulness Goals: To be doing whatever I was doing in the moment; eating, preparing food, washing my face, making tea, doing yoga, etc. No radio, no tv, no internet, no distraction from the monkey house I call my own mind.
Meditation Goals: To continue to increase my concentration and to strengthen the collaboration of insight and concentration within the meditation.
What did I learn?
- Moments of peace and stillness are often near moments of suffering.
- The monkeys do settle down, but they are mischievous and determined to find distractions, one must be ever alert.
- Thoughts of doubt, restlessness, worry, lethargy all fade when they are called out on the table for what they are.
- At every meal, with nothing to distract it my stomach would tell me when I was full. It was amazing! It’s funny how that never happens in the real world!
- If you haven’t experienced the pure joy of sitting at a table in a quiet room with a grapefruit for your snack and peeling it, while taking in the energizing smell and the fresh pop in your mouth – well you are missing out!
- If you question, how you are meditating, just sit yourself near a large tree in a breeze and study that tree. It will be happy to show you how to remain calm and centered and connected to this spot, this present moment, no matter what craziness is going on around you.
To be fair, I’ve loved all my silent retreats. I sink right into the quiet. There is normally a day in the middle I get restless, but never tired of the quiet. I've seen some people struggle more, usually for just a day or so of the retreat. In my first retreat on the first night before we all went silent, everyone was introducing themselves and one guy asked who would know if he went crazy from the silence. The teachers smiled and assured him his roommate could let them know. He never went crazy. In fact, at the end when we debriefed, he commented that he was surprised how much he'd like it. Never underestimate your own need for silence. You may just not know about it because of the stimulation always around you. Stimulation to which you've allowed yourself to become accustomed.
I can't encourage everyone enough to learn what time they need for themselves. Time away from technology and input. Time to just learn about yourself, so you can trust yourself moving forward.