Ok, this is more than a slight exaggeration to say the least. But I feel like I put my little toe in the water with a 24 hour silent retreat that I just completed. Nothing but meditation, breakfast, lunch, and late afternoon tea. That’s it, other than some sleep at night.
I have to admit that I went into this with equal parts of trepidation and enthusiasm. Having not only never meditated longer than one hour, and certainly never having been silent with only myself for 24 hours straight. That’s a whole lot of “me” time, and I wasn’t sure how much I would like being with only me and my own thoughts for that long. In addition to this meditation time, I decided to also observe a monastic precept of no food after Noon time. This too was going to be a big challenge for me, as I am used to not only having a big dinner every night, but usually several snacks and desert later in the evening. Uh oh, no chips and dip!
Lastly, my cigarettes were being left at home as well.
For those who did not know that I smoke, it is a terrible habit that I have yet to break. But I saw this as an opportunity to do without those too for at least one full day. And I typically do not go more than twenty minutes without having one!
You may be wondering what compelled me to do this. And it actually came to me during a morning meditation, to spend an extended period of time with the self and nothing but my own mind. And my work prohibits me from taking several days off for a typical retreat, so I thought “why not just take 24 hours and do it?”. And just that quickly, my decision was made to do this personal retreat. With no expectations or hope for results. Just sitting, shutting up, and observing the mind and the breath.
My wonderful Son (in-law), a Christian Pastor, put it quite beautifully when I told him about this. He said “I think it’s a discipline that cultivates freedom”.
So how did I do?
Well, it may sound like I failed miserably, but I made it 5 hours before my body was experiencing more pain than I could endure. I was so determined to make it the full 24 hours, but I finally conceded that I was not having benefit from simply observing all the physical pains in my back, neck and shoulders.
And I was grateful that I did spend more time meditating than ever before in my life, and also got to experience walking meditation as well. My first sit was 1 hour and 40 minutes before I got off the cushion and switched to a chair for the next 20 minutes. At that point I took a 15 minute break for some oatmeal and fruit breakfast. Following that I did a walking meditation for about 20 minutes and then returned to the cushion. The following 2 1/2 hours were a mix of cushion, chair and brief walks. But the physical discomfort was rapidly increasing. An aside note, inside the very large Temple there was only one fly, and he seemed to be extremely enamored with me. Going so far as to consistently try to crawl up my nostrils and in my ears. I wondered to myself if this was the Buddha trying to teach me about patience, acceptance and the love for all beings. I sent that little fly so much loving kindness, but still had spontaneous thoughts of lashing out at him. “Doesn’t this fly understand that I am trying to practice peace?”
But it occurred to me that this is the nature of life. Meditation does not mean that the World goes away and everything is beautiful. In fact I found this mini retreat to be one of more racing thoughts than any other meditation I have ever done.
I came to see that I don’t need Netflix or Red Box, as I have unlimited streaming movies available to me at all times. Dramas, comedies, romance, action and adventure, they are all on my playlist.
And as these thoughts arose, I had to remind myself to breathe and not blog. I was not there to come up with a new Blog post, I was there to observe my mind. But it turned out to be quite the three-ring Circus.
Am I happy that I attempted this mini retreat, even though it was only 5 hours? Absolutely!
And I am encouraged that I can do longer next time. I actually did learn a lot about myself and the nature of my own mind, which I will try to share in future posts. For now, suffice it to say, if any of you have considered doing a retreat like this, I would strongly encourage you to give it a try. You will probably not reach Nirvana, but thats OK. You will be quiet and learn a lot about yourself. And that really is a fascinating journey.
May you be well, happy and peaceful.