3 Things I Learned on Silent Meditation Retreat
I was lucky enough to spend this past weekend at the Margaret Austin Center in Chappell Hill, Texas (between Austin & Houston). I knew that spending three days in silence, practicing sitting and walking meditation, would be good for me. But I didn't expect to absorb so much pragmatic meditation knowledge from our wonderful teacher, Anushka Fernandopulle.
I was so nervous leading up to the weekend getaway. My mind kept inventing reasons why I couldn't go. Luckily I stayed present with my heart and took a leap of faith.
Now out the other side, I can honestly say I wish the retreat had gone longer. I didn't expect to find connection with strangers in such a short (and largely quiet) time. Or fall so deeply in touch with my unhurried self. I cried when I left the retreat center.
Of course, I was happy to get home to my cat and beloved neighbors, but part of me misses the regimented daily schedule of the Insight Meditation Retreat. Which brings me to the topic of this blog: how to bring much of the retreat back into daily life. Here are my top three takeaways that I have already begun implementing in daily practice.
1. You can sit with any state of mind
Just like many people say they are "too inflexible" for yoga, I often hear others say they are too busy and frazzled to meditate. One of Anushka's most important closing messages was that mindfulness is available to you in any state of mind. No matter how distraught or scattered your thoughts, you can still be present with them in meditation.
Another encouragement for aspiring meditators: Anushka mentioned that some days, our meditation time will be filled with planning or recounting the day's events. She encouraged us not to get discouraged, but rather to come back to the breath every time. In this way, we are "taking out the [mental] garbage." Our meditation time is not supposed to be blissful and quiet; rather, the practice helps us acknowledge and cleanse mental debris.
2. Everything is temporary
Much of Buddhist teachings hinge on the idea that clinging perpetuates suffering. Whether that is clinging to your current experience, your physical body, or even the carrot cake you are eating, that attachment then causes suffering when the object of the affection is removed. The overarching lesson is that all things are inherently temporary, so it is fruitless to attach yourself to thoughts, feelings, and sensations.
I learned this firsthand during our thirty minute meditation sittings. My feet and ankles went numb after about twenty minutes, but as I watched the sensations, I could feel that they weren't solid. Despite my "monkey mind" telling me my legs would fall off if I didn't move them, I discovered new resilience and patience by being present with the discomfort. Sure enough, the discomfort of my physical body eventually faded into the background. When we see and acknowledge sensations, thoughts, and feelings, we can then let them go as temporary experiences.
3. Planned getaways nourish the soul
In today's world, it seems kind of crazy to turn off your phone, take a vow of silence and live with complete strangers for three days. It even seems crazy to just turn off your phone. But based on the total body refreshment I feel after disconnecting, I strongly encourage you to plan a zen experience for yourself. You can spend one afternoon in nature without your phone or even invest in a longer zencation! :)
To help you be successful on your mindful journeys, I will share three things I did that made leaving (and coming back) a whole lot easier:
- Tell your support system well in advance that you are taking time for yourself. Give dates when you will need help covering household duties.
- Set up an email auto-reply. In Gmail, Outlook, and most other accounts, this process takes fewer than five minutes. Consider saying something in the auto-reply about where you are going--this is a chance to inspire others with the way you are investing in yourself!
- If you are worried about getting back into the swing of things upon your return, write yourself a love note. Start off by saying how proud you are of your attempt to unplug, and then gently suggest a few things to start work on when you get back to the office or home.
Wishing for you a week filled with deep breaths and lots of zenspiration!