I am sharing this experience because it has a lot to do with yoga.
My seven-day mindful silent retreat.
program kind of looked like this: Seven days with no contact with other people, no eye contact, no mobile, no reading, no stimuli, no internet seven hours or so meditation each day, either sitting (45 min session) or very slow mindful-walking (half hour
sessions) alternating sitting/walking (mostly sitting) throughout the day. Breaks with silent breakfast, silent lunch and silent dinner. Breaks with silent sitting around, or walking slow, or resting in the bedroom. Two hours of yoga each day, vinyasa in the
morning and meditative in the evening to the lovely human voice of the yoga teacher, many of us would have had a much harder week without the yoga, both physically and mentally. Half hour meditation-education from the teachers each evening, and them answering
our questions we could write on small pieces of paper. Those session became the highlight of the day for many of us, especially towards the end. The bunch with pieces of papers grew and grew for each day towards the end. No doubt our thoughts were running
Firstly: Why would I do such a thing? Being a yoga teacher, although I find it strange to use such title, for yoga takes lifetimes to learn…it seems, and when it comes to it, yoga has very little to
do with exercise or physical postures originally. Yoga is a tool to help still the mind, so has a lot to do with meditation. But yoga teacher trainings these days, especially in the western part of the world doesn`t take you that deep into the depth of meditation,
it seems. Not that I am aware of anyhow.
So here is me thinking I knew what I was getting myself in for, choosing the seven day- meditation instead of the three day- meditation, because I
have some experience of meditation and yoga, or so I thought… yes I have practiced sitting in meditation some years here and there and not always regular, but 15-20 minutes every now and then. Pluss pranayama (controlled breathing) in my yoga practice.
I have even been to retreats that have had silent days, silent meals, silent work, but then, dancing and sharing experiences with people in the evenings, and connecting every day of the retreat. The week before this 7 day silent retreat, meditation 15-20 minutes
each day. But, that is nothing like seven hours each day.
How was my experience? I don`t know where to begin, because there are no suitable
words to describe this kind of «strange thing to do» I could say it was «everything» almost like being reborn, and all the suffering and insights it takes to be reborn? But I am not totally reborn, am sure there is so much more to discover…
but for now this is enough, in the end I craved normal everyday life, and that says a lot if you know me. But god knows what the future holds…
The rules at the retreat was not to write
or read, so I couldn`t keep a journal as such, but occasionally I would write some words in a notebook. I have a creative mind and knew at some point would want to share my story, I really don`t think writing those few words on a rare occasion took me away
from the present moment, or even reduced my suffering. What I write can`t show you in which exact order events, feelings and thoughts took place, but there is an idea whereabouts in the week the waves of emotions, thoughts and ideas took place. Also,
my thoughts in my mind in the silent week, were mostly in English. My main mantra being: «you grow though what you go through» kept popping into my head all day long. Amongst a crazy amount of other thoughts, ideas, planning, even songs- and music,
mostly songs which I don`t even like.
The birch tree experience. this huge birch tree outside my bedroom window took the place of all the usual stimuli of modern everyday life. At first, I was so
grateful the tree was there, and that there was wind moving the leaves and the sound of the wind moving the leaves soothing my mind. And the movement of the leaves stimulating my eyes. The second day there was no wind, so the tree became less exciting and
rather boring. Hmm, what to do now? Wishing for a storm for most of the second day just to have some sort of stimuli. But I kind of enjoyed the peace, and not having to be social, having been craving more and more alone time and peace the last months before
the retreat. Meditation-sitting the first day was ok, but not easy, was harder on the second day, and body aching even more. We were recommended to sit through the pain, and truth being told the pain was less by the end of the week, it was there but I had
learnt not to let it bother me so much. The last days wasn`t so much physical pain, more mental pain, or whatever it was. Having said that, there were moments of peace of mind also.
retreat is not a holiday. I soon discovered that meditation on this level is not a holiday, sometimes the profound stillness was rather noisy, the sittings were hard and the slow-walking frustrating. I discovered that silence can be noisy, kind of
too much in your face, if you like. The third night, I think I slept one minute, I got up walking around the corridors hoping to meet ghosts. My fear of ghost had suddenly disappeared out of the blue. I’d rather meet a ghost than nothing at all, that’s
quite a revelation I would say. I discovered having more fear of the inside than of the outside, if you know what I mean? Probably not… anyway, the third night was the night of my first panic attack, but also the first night of moments of total pace,
after struggling through the panic attack, I kind of just gave in, in a way. Thinking: what is the worst that can happen? I thought I was going to die though, of a heart attack. I had left my mobile in the office on the day of arrival, so the contact number
we could call in a crisis was useless to me. I was adamant to not have the mobile with me, although most people had theirs with them, it seemed. The mobile-collection basket had around 5 mobiles in it, and we were more than 30 people at the retreat. I knew
I wouldn’t be disciplined enough to not use mine if I had had it around me. Maybe the other 30 people had discipline? Not a hard task though, to be more disciplined than myself. I didn’t see anyone sitting around with their mobiles, not in the
communal area’s anyhow. One of the reasons for me going to a retreat like that was to get away from the internet. Which I did, for 7 days. Funny thing though, I didn’t miss my mobile at all, that’s the truth. I kind of looked for it as an
automatic response on the first day, but it was not a longing. What I missed the most, was real people and conversations. I missed my dog the most, I think because he is very much “living in the now” and totally vibrating with aliveness and love
which I really could have done with through those lonely dark moments of longing…
I met a dog.
On the third day, I think it was. I went
for a walk down the road in one of the breaks. I met a dog, it made me so happy and loving, I sat down with it and stroked it, it was such a beautiful moment, I was having a connection with a living being and even eye-contact, meeting this dog made my day,
more than that…cant quite explain. Very happy feelings. I was sure this dog was magical, at that point. Day four I met two cats, one of which hugged my leg hard and followed me around, I sat down with them, they were the most beautiful beings ever.
(I would never sit down with cats, or even stroke them, due to my strong cat allergy) I was desperate for contact with living beings…maybe. Even allergy would have been better than no connection to anything ever, at this point. It is how it felt. I
have never ever been so grateful for the simple things in life, as in this silent week. I great discovery of what is important in life…connections.
When you wish bumble bees would say something.
Yes, I am at that point now. Having done all these mindful walks outdoors I really started to feel connected to nature and all its beauty. I saw every drop of water on the small plants in the grass so
clearly, like small crystal drops, their shape and beauty. Sparkling. And the sky and the trees, and the wind, and the birdsong. Ahh, the birdsong would be so clear and loud, even from a distance, Like I had an amplifier in my head. They would become one of
my meditation objects. It was nice seeing bumble bees in the grass, their wings and their fur, yes, they have fur. Further into the week I had a longing that the bumble bees would talk to me… my little silent friends. Funny how the mind works when its
deprived of connection.
The birch tree again. It was my best friend the first two nights/days, but by the end its dark silhouette at night would bring out darker my
thoughts. I had been intensely studying it for almost a week, keeping my curtains open the whole night so I could see it and be entertained by a living thing, a tree, nature, movement and wind. One of the last nights I got kind of pissed off and bored with
it, it’s dark leaves hanging there without wind or movement. It wouldn’t even turn psychedelic on me no matter how hard I tried to stare at it. Is this what boredom looks like? The tree that had been my TV for the week had lost my interest. Was
quite glad to part with the view from the window and my little bedroom that had started to feel more and more like a prison cell by the end. I had had some empty, lonely and painful moments in there. Some peaceful and normal moments too, but not many.
What I have gained?
I do see the point of mindfulness meditation, it is simple, non-religious, always available in your body and mind, wherever you go. There is
no mantra, no sound. Only observing your breathing. Also, I learned to sit through physical pain, observe the pain and accept it. In this retreat we had 45-minute sittings many times a day. I did have some peaceful ones, after my worst night I had my best
day of meditation. I had two sittings where I didn’t desperately long for the end-bell to ring. I felt peace in my mind, like there were no thoughts. It was good. I had survived my own mind…phew.
One night the instructor gave us a guided meditation on love and compassion. I was pleased to discover that I am a loving being, after all… as on a similar meditation the day before,
I felt nothing, nothing!! thinking: have I got no love inside!? Anyway, I felt so light and happy after that second “love and compassion meditation” I loved all the living beings in the world (even wasps) eh...? I loved all my fellow meditators,
they were cute. I loved my family like I was going to explode (tears) and my dog. And the whole universe. And on the slow walk meditation just after that sitting-meditation I wanted to jump, run, dance on the grass, but that would have disturbed all the serious
looking slow-walkers and I would have embarrassed myself. So, I didn’t…
So, you think it’s all love and roses from then on, no. The day after the love and compassion experience, I had another
panic attack on a balcony after just having been slow walking listening to the wind in the trees. This time I knew how to breathe myself out of it and into another slightly peaceful moment. I managed to think logically about it and managed to observe my inner
chaos with a degree of detachment. That was an achievement in my book. So, you see. Being in silence can be a rollercoaster ride, and you never know what is going to happen from moment to moment in your inner landscape. In your everyday life there are so many
other distractions, you don’t have to face what the mind is constantly up to. And its weird how some of us voluntarily will pay money and go away to a weeklong retreat (some last even much longer) to go through this somehow exhausting journey,
some people do again and again, even after a bad first experience. I think that is impressive. I really am not sure if I would do a weeklong silent retreat again, three days yes. But I am not craving a longer one at this point. I spent much of the time there
wanting it all to be over and counting the days to the day departure but giving up was never an option. I had decided to make it through, which I did, barely.
The day we were able to talk and share our experiences, the 7th day.
Wow! This day was such a relief. After
some meditation, yoga and breakfast we were now sat in a circle and able to share and talk about our silent week. Over 30 people had been sharing grounds 7 days in silence were now going to open about their inner journey. It was a magical moment. You didn’t
have to open or talk if you didn’t want to, but everybody did.
I spent a lot of my time in the silent week thinking I was struggling more than the others. But in the sharing circle it came to light that all
us had our different struggles, some more than others. First-timers more than those who had been before. Most of the people had been before. And even some of those who had been many times had their struggles this time too. I felt comforted by the words of
the others. Amazing stories, about struggles, beauty, bliss, boredom, inner demons and restlessness. It sure is a and deep and amazing way to get to know someone, spend a week with them in silence, then open. No small talk, just honest open raw, floodgates
bursting and laughter. Laughter and tears moment to moment. Like life unfolding… Just my cup of tea. This day made it all worth it.
Coming home everything is loud and fast, all sounds are double as loud as usual. Nature still has brighter colours and more detail (6 days later, I am writing this) One is recommended not to drive
for a while after, luckily there was a person who had slept more than me and felt more grounded than I did, that offered to drive my car from the retreat near to my home, as she lived near. (1 hr, 15 minutes’ drive from the retreat) I drove the last
15 minutes alone to my home, and it was very hard. I slept on average two hours a night at the retreat and wasn’t feeling up for driving. Wasn’t feeling up too much at all. Just sleep and more sleep, and then some rest. Was great to see my people
again, and I have a newfound appreciation for family, animals, nature, friends and for meditation too. Still, 6 days after the silent-week I find driving hard, and fast phased life and traffic, work and everyday schedule. It almost made me feel sick to have
to think about opening e-mails (took two days to even start to open them) and even longer to get back into the rat-race of everyday living. The mobile phone was too bright and fast, I feel less addicted to it, now, than before. I have more peace, not so much
in a hurry, mediation feels like a good thing to get more into, although I will admit that a whole week of meditation was too long for me as a first timer and I am still recovering. I am a highly sensitive person and this experience has made me even more sensitive,
three-day retreats will probably be more than enough for the future. If I ever mention that I want to go to another seven-day retreat, please will you try and talk sense to me and stop me?