Three days in silence
by Erin Joosse
A couple of weeks ago, I took 3 days to go on a silent meditation retreat. That’s right. No talking. No computers, no cell phones, no reading, no talking. Nothing to distract us from simply being with ourselves and what was around us. Instead, we sat, walked, ate, and worked on chores–each with our own mind, breath, body, and the forest around us as company.
Our first full day of practice began at 5:30am, when the “bell-ringer” (everyone had a job), walked throughout the retreat center and all the buildings ringing a hand held bell. By 6am, we were settling into our first seated meditation of the day. And we began. Alternating between seated meditation, walking meditation, eating meditation, and working meditation until our heads hit the pillow at 10pm that night. That first day, much of my mental energy was back at home, in the office, working away. But I would notice, and come back to my body and my breath…until the next time my mind wandered. I must have brought myself back a thousand times that day from my busy mind.
I spoke with an instructor about this; the one exception to the no talking rule was in small group interviews with the teachers. He said, it’s a little like in life, you are paddling in a canoe down a stream, and when you go on retreat, it’s like you pull your oars out of the water. But you still have the momentum moving you forward. Your mind is still back in life with all your doings. Day one can often feel busy mentally, as you transition into stillness.
Day two was easier. I had settled in more. It was getting easier to sit for extended periods, and my mind rested more easily on my breath. I felt like naturally my breath was deeper and fuller, without my trying. My senses were starting to heighten, colors more vivid, smells stronger, flavors richer. I was starting to have moments of incredible quiet, where I felt completely at peace and a powerful sense of expansion.
By day three, it was easy to settle with each meditation, each moment moving through the day felt fluid and alive. I still dealt with a wandering mind, but I was relaxed, easy, and forgiving about it.
Taking the practice home
The biggest thing I may have taken home with me was noticing how much mental energy I put into my work, even when I am not at work. I noticed it on the retreat, and I realized that back at home, it is no different. I go home at the end of the work day, and I am still going…figuring this or that out, planning, fixing, mentally reminding myself to call that person or email that one. When I saw that so clearly, I realized that it was time to make a change.
There is a feeling, when you go on a retreat like this, one where you can really go deeply inward, without the outward distractions of daily life for a time, where the line between meditation and life begins to disappear. Coming home, I felt for a time like I was still meditating. Driving my car meditation, working meditation, making dinner meditation, getting my kids up in the morning meditation.
A new practice
I have a new practice in my day. I realize that my brain is really good at planning, figuring out, strategizing, organizing, and I let that fully express itself when I am in the office. So when I go to work, I let the creative juices flow. I let myself plan, think, and strategize as much as I want to. And then, before it is time for me to leave, I gather my things, I pack up, and then I go into the studio and sit for 10 minutes. I let my busy mind slow its swirling. I slow down, I let the energy of the workday settle. And when I am clear, I walk out, and leave it all behind. I tell myself what’s done is done. I did what I did–or not–and it’s enough. And then I go home to be fully present to my family. The computer stays off, the phone is put aside, and I do my best to stay fully with them.
Does my mind drift back to work? Yes. And I begin again. I take a breath, I acknowledge how good my brain is at working, and I forgive myself and let it go. And the best part? My kids get me, fully present, with them. I have started to notice that when I leave work at work, my kids are less needy and I am less exhausted at the end of the day.
It’s why we do this, right? We practice on our yoga mat or on our meditation cushion so that we can be fully present in our life. So that the lines between practice and life start to blur, and everything becomes our practice. It is easier said than done, but that is what makes it a practice, right? Even if it is a thousand times in one day, we begin again, and begin again, and begin again.