I spent five days in complete silence

I had never meditated a day in my life until I decided to attend a five-day silent meditation retreat. To be honest, I can't even say I've ever had the desire to try it. What I wanted to do, however, was feel more connected to my body because I had just gone through a vague series of health issues the previous year that left me dissatisfied with my dysfunctional anatomy. I went through countless tests, changed medications frequently, experienced severe side effects from said medications, and generally felt very hopeless. I really didn't feel comfortable in my own skin and knew I needed to try something that wasn't just another pill.

I started staying up late at night, Googling my symptoms, desperate to find a magic drug, herbal tea, or yoga pose that would cure me. I've discovered (and tried) a bunch of crazy therapies, but in all my research, one common piece of advice stands out: the importance of meditation. As a natural skeptic, I laughed off the idea. However, the more I researched, the more I was attracted to the idea of ​​"loving my body" again through "positive thinking", or whatever. Plus, considering I'd already taken a pill-sized camera and waited until I passed it out so doctors could analyze the inner workings of my gut, what does 60 hours of meditation count in the grand scheme of things?

So last January, I set off for a meditation retreat in the woods of New England, using the time off to "connect my body and spirit," as a forum I read on the internet suggested. Let’s just say, it was unlike anything I’d ever experienced: strange, otherworldly, surprising, and life-changing in so many ways.

1. Quiet mediations can quickly become boring

With distracting items like phones, diaries or books effectively locked away, my days were spent in silence surrounded by 100 blank-eyed, zombie-like retreaters. About half are in crisis (30-something newly divorced/married/laid off), while the other half are in the 70+ age group that we're glad to have here. I was by far the youngest person on the retreat, and as I fell asleep to the sound of gongs in my tiny single room at 9pm, I couldn't help but picture my friends at a club or concert. They all kept questioning my decision to attend the retreat and kept reminding me that I was the kind of coldhearted person who didn’t cry during The Notebook. I'm clearly a failure in terms of emotional connection to myself.

Seeing how little time it actually takes to make me happy makes it easy for me to put my entire world and values ​​into perspective.

More gongs would sound at 5:30am, at which point I would roll out of bed and start my repetitive schedule with a warm, inspired smile on my face and a spring in my step (just kidding!) until around 10am I just got grumpy) at least). Our days alternated between sitting meditation and walking meditation, the former taking place in a grand meditation hall led by two teachers, the latter consisting of walking in a row and focusing on connecting with the mechanics of our steps. For a retreat that is supposed to inspire inner peace, our schedule is definitely packed – I often find myself feeling guilty for being late after a long sip of tea/watching the clouds float over the rendezvous location nervous. The only formal breaks during meditation are when we do housework or kitchen work, and eat vegetarian food. Everything should be done “mindfully,” which means engaging in the present moment slowly and completely.

"Mindfulness" has become a buzzword these days (see: Overpriced Hazelnut Soy Cappuccino on Instagram with a caption explaining how we should enjoy our drink "mindfully" before going to yoga) . It's been described as a weight-loss strategy (eat 12 pieces of quinoa in every bite! You'll eat less!) or a quick fix for "feeling more connected to your partner." However, "real" mindfulness, which is a method of involving your body and mind equally in every task you do, takes a lifetime to achieve. As someone who constantly clicks for the next episode of a show and I'll binge watch it after the last episode ends because I can't wait for the 10 seconds it takes for the episode to automatically load, practicing mindfulness can be very frustrating.

As instructed, I would spend 15 minutes concentrating on enjoying the feeling of my socks on the wooden floor, and then suddenly get the overwhelming urge to hit something. Eating slowly to feel the flavor of every noodle ruined all my enjoyment of food.

Frustration aside, I should say that sometimes I enjoy all the extra time to reflect—certainly when I don’t accidentally fall asleep on my meditation mat or mentally curse my choices. This got me thinking:

2. Monotony allows for a rare kind of introspection

Let’s be honest: I was pretty bored most of the time at the ashram. That's exactly what I mean. Insufferable. boring. However, strange things do happen. I started to feel extreme joy in every little change in my daily life. Yes, I was comfortable spending time with myself and learning my thought patterns, I, myself and each other developed real inside jokes and even developed some super fun activities.

One afternoon I found a bucket of tennis balls and a yoga foam roller and started throwing the ball against the wall and hitting it with the roller like it was a one-man baseball game. This noise is not allowed and I should probably be meditating somewhere, but hey, my rebellious side doesn't take a vacation.

I also enjoy slowly sipping tea from the self-serve tea bar like a glass of fine wine, noting all the "tannins" and rich "aftertaste" of a lovely cup of vanilla milk tea while sitting by the window, Wait for the birds to peck from the bird feeder. Whenever a bird appeared, my heart would beat so fast I thought it would stop, like what happens when a puppy eats chocolate.

I do realize this all may sound pathetic to you. Probably yes. Yet, growing up, I had yet to experience the pure joy that comes from such seemingly meaningless moments. Of course, in my real life, when I had responsibilities, was stressed, and had really cool things to distract me, I would never be entertained by these activities for so long. But seeing how little time it actually takes to make me happy makes it easy for me to put my entire world and values ​​into perspective.

3. Meditation is hard, but we have a lot of support

I'm definitely worried that I won't be accepted into the community because I'm a newbie meditator and can't usually keep a straight face through awkward moments, let alone moments of silence. I also assumed everyone would realize that I only half believed in all things spiritual - I felt like I was almost becoming an undercover narc trying to fit in at a high school party.

Yet somehow April and Pierre*, the two very patient teachers who led the meditations, were really kind and helpful. Their inner peace and self-control is astounding (and shall we say, they never had an extra bite of the gluten-free "Nirvana noodles" served at lunch. Yes, I did.)

As an encouragement, April and Pierre often meditated silently in front of us. They will also lead inspiring “Dharma Talks,” lectures on Buddhist theory and stories from their extensive meditation practice. April often reads poems or references that include beautiful metaphors that are common tools for reflecting on Buddhist thought (“Our wild minds are just fish flopping in water that’s too shallow.”)

Pierre talks about real-life issues and often makes jokes. With his unwavering optimism, Pierre endears himself to every 75-year-old woman in yoga pants. That's why the bomb he drops on us on day three hurts us even more: Pierre has HIV. If possible, it makes me admire him even more. He has always been so cute, but he has an incurable disease for life! At the same time, I was passive-aggressively rude to the slow-walker in front of me! These two teachers quickly became my idols.

4. Meditation isn’t just about relaxing; That's quite difficult

Rather than telling us to quiet our brains (which I've always thought was the point of meditation), April and Pierre instruct us to sit down and let our minds free in order to identify our thought patterns and reconsider memories . This is where everything gets psychedelic.

Giving up control of my mind was like watching a silent movie directed by Stanley Kubrick and Sgt. Pepper -era Beatles were cast, and the soundtrack was curated by a 14-year-old stoner listening to "The Dark Side of the Moon" in his parents' basement. The images that flash through your mind when you close your eyes during meditation often make no sense. Phosphenes are small bursts of color and shapes that we see when we close our eyes, becoming dazzling. The randomness of my thoughts became frustrating. However, as a listener to my own thoughts, I noticed some important patterns. Once I identified these patterns, I took a more controlled approach and chose which memories to relive, many of which I had experienced a million times before.

Of course, not all memory montages are pleasant. I saw painful arguments and family fights. However, reliving these moments in my mind is surprisingly not painful, and it makes it easier for me to accept where I am in my life right now.

Additionally, sitting in one place and thinking for a while helps me take a calm, matter-of-fact look at my dysfunctional body. I notice every part that feels wrong and think about what it would feel like if it healed. Obviously, this didn't really do anything practical, but it was still an exercise that might have given me more hope for recovery.

5. Meditation is also an emotional experience

In addition to these memory montages, Pierre and April encourage us to let our emotions "overwhelm us" in order to fully understand them, rather than pushing them away, as I always like to do.

Allowing myself to truly feel emotions I'd never felt before meant following a happy and strange "warmth" from my chest to the highest part of my throat. Also: When I think about something I'm afraid of, I feel a chill run through my body. I swear, at one point I actually started crying on the mat. I have no idea what they put in the tofu tacos for dinner that night, but for some reason this burst of food felt so right.

After this exercise, an idea occurred to me: Happiness is essentially one of life's great goals, yet we often feel it when it comes to us, but don't really let it engulf us. When we're truly happy, we don't take the time to notice how our ears, little toes, or the tip of our noses feel. It's such a loss considering how hard happiness is for anyone to come by. It only makes sense that we should be completely consumed by it as it passes us by.

6. Building deep, non-verbal connections with others is weird…and truly valuable

Our personal living arrangements were pretty bleak (tiny single room "complete with" a single bed, a wooden chair, a sink, and a closet), but just being at the retreat I felt connected to everyone there Very close, even though we couldn't help but talk or even acknowledge each other.

I often felt truly alone, but never lonely. One of the reasons I was able to avoid this was because our teacher made us do some very unusual things. Pierre and April often lead us in "loving kindness" prayers, where we send love and kindness to our loved ones and other retreatants in the room. Then a very strange thing happened - I really started to feel that all the "loving" prayers I was sending were working. Strangely enough, I felt so much love for myself and every stranger in the room. A strange but satisfying feeling.

Despite all the strangeness and boredom, those silent days lost in thought during retreats were some of the most impactful days of my life. This trip didn't solve my health mystery, but it definitely made me appreciate some of the cool stuff going on out there, rather than just noticing the pain and discomfort. For me at least, the truly groundbreaking adventures are the ones that are accompanied by deep introspection, and once you get the hang of it, you can basically do it anywhere - whether it's at the beach, at a spa, or wherever you can A place to freely enter your brain and your heart.

*All names have been changed

Image: Unsplash; Pixel