I just completed a 3 day silent retreat and wanted to share with you a little bit about my experience, if you want to hear…
As I sat on my mat, in the cozy meditation room, filled with silent conversations going on inside the many minds in the room, the same minds of people who were gracious and brave enough to come and sit for three long, albeit deep, days in silence.
It was another of the many Vipassana retreats I had done, although it had been many years since my last of this kind. (Vipassana is a serious silent retreat where you cannot look at others, or talk to them). Unlike the many other silent retreats I had done for 16 years, where we practiced more of a joyful, relaxed silence (where hand gestures, and smiles were ok), I had almost forgotten that Vipassana did not allow this.
Despite the austerity of this simple practice, it did not take long before I was reminded of the myriad of benefits of having a few short days of simple silence. My energy increased, I felt a deeper sense of relaxation, a stronger sense of connection to both myself and others, and an overall sense of peace and harmony within every cell of my being. A short retreat was a small sacrifice to make for the multitude of benefits received.
This Vipassana retreat was only for ‘old students’ (who have done at least one 10 day silent retreat). It is not for the faint of heart, as it requires the student to sit in deep concentration for many hours each day. This in fact is much more difficult than having to remain silent, as it requires much more self-discipline, at least for me. (You can walk around each hour, but you are still sitting for approx. 10 hours per day).
Vipassana means ‘to see things as they really are.’ It is one of India’s oldest forms of meditation and at one time was the main prescription as a universal remedy for all ills. This technique aims to eradicate all ‘mental impurities’, which in turn will free the person from all suffering. Eventually, this results in full liberation, and is said to be the most direct route to enlightenment.
Now, why would we willingly want to put ourselves through such a difficult practice? If all it took was 10 days to learn a simple yet highly effective tool to completely eradicate all mental suffering, would that not seem like a reasonable exchange? Short term pain for long term gain as they say.
Most of us unfortunately need more than a 10 day retreat to eradicate all suffering. 🙂 For most it takes years of dedicated practice, and a mentor who can show you the way when you get lost. We do not have many enlightened mentors in the west, and are extremely lucky if we find one. Yet, if we can begin to cultivate even a short practice every day, we can begin to feel the lasting effects of greater peace, within our lives.
Unfortunately in the west, we are not taught much about the amazing benefits of the simple practice of meditation and basic breathwork (which is often a precursor to meditation).
I understand that we live in a world that encourages more of an ‘outer’ approach to life, and at the same time, the cost has resulted in much more suffering, stress, anxiety, depression, and pain, than we need to create for ourselves. In fact if we choose (and it is a choice we either make or choose not to make, if we have some level of consciousness), we can create a life that is more peaceful, harmonious, and more deeply satisfying.
Also, given that stress is pretty much a given for most people at some point in their lives, we can learn to use stress in healthier ways that inspire and propel us forward, rather than paralyzing us, leaving us weathered and frazzled.
In the east, at least in the past, it was well understood that some simple sacrifices, practiced periodically (and some daily), would go a long way towards maintaining mental and physical well-being.
Daily practices such as simple breathing, stretching, and meditation practices, first thing in the morning (before the mind becomes busy), can go a long way towards sustaining not only the central nervous system, but also greater health, longevity, and deeper sense of inner peace.
Periodic practices (ideally done at the change of every season, or about 4 times per year) require more austerities such as maintaining silence, eating simple vegetarian meals, resting more, etc. can be very helpful for rejuvenation, and re-setting you back to your center.
So if you want to give yourself a boost as we head into the winter, try starting your day with some stretching, long-deep conscious breathing, and simple meditation. You can practice the latter two simultaneously by sitting with eyes closed and simply watching the breath as it moves in and out through the nose. You can focus specifically on the area below the nose and above the upper lip as you breath in and out, making sure to bring the breath all the way down into your belly (and into the top of the lungs) as you inhale. This breathing practice, known as anapana in Vipassana, will sharpen your levels of deep concentration. It is the precursor to Vipassana.
May you find ways to ground and center yourself as we move into the busy season over the next month. May you smile often and know that you have an important part to play here on this earth.
If you have any comments or questions about this blog, or about meditation, breathing practices, or other natural anxiety-relieving practices, please feel free to send me an email. I’ll do my best to respond as soon as I am able.
If you want to learn more about meditation in general, check out this blog.
With love and appreciation,