As I shared with many of you, I began this holiday season off at a Buddhist monastery for a day and a half retreat. My first one. This retreat was silent. Oh yes, Lisa did not say a thing for OVER 24-hours. Shocking, I know. I wasn’t allowed to have my cell phone or laptop, no connection to the high-tech world. I’ll admit it, when I first got there, the realization of having to really disconnect from life as I knew it was kind of like trying to breathe while someone was stacking concrete blocks on top of me. It was hard. Really hard.
But, slowly, I felt the grip of my busy life let go, and a warm tranquility wash over me. I practiced very hard to keep my mind empty. To purge it of all the swirling thoughts that bounced around inside of me. And, as expected, there were moments when it just seemed impossible not to think about things. To worry. To dream. But I kept pushing them away and returning to the present. To my breath. I looked around at the room full of people who were here doing this with me. I didn’t know most of them, but, yet, when they smiled at me, I could sense the love and peace that flowed through them. I practiced not judging them, just seeing them for who and what they were. And it was another pleasant reminder that I’m not alone in this journey. Or in life. At all. That silly realization actually sent shivers down my spine.
Most of the day was spent doing various meditation sessions, including walking meditation, which I found absolutely breathtaking. I could have walked for days and days. The weather was amazing, which, of course, didn’t hurt matters either. I found peace in those tree-lined paths. And beauty. And during that two-hour walk, I felt as though so much in the world made sense to me. And, at the same time, that so much of it doesn’t matter. That I really had been making life far more complicated than it should be. How could I ever be sad or upset or frustrated, when such wondrous beauty surrounds me? How easily I had forgotten how truly amazing the world really is. I took a picture of those woods in my mind, and promised myself to resurrect it when life began to get me down.
We also practiced yoga while there, which I loved (and was very happy that I didn’t slip and point the soles of my feet at any monk *wipes brow*). We had lunch, followed by more meditation. By the afternoon of my first day, I was both terribly frustrated by the fact I couldn’t speak, and also liberated that I could enjoy the company of others without constantly jabbering away.
That evening, during tea (we didn’t have ANY food after lunch – yeah, that was a tough one), there was a talk. Stories were shared with the guests. And there was one story that really spoke to me. One of the residents of the monastery, upon his arrival, took a vow of silence, and did not speak for eight months. And when he finally spoke another resident asked: “Why eight months? What did the silence do?” He replied: “I realized that so much of what I had said in my life was of little or no consequence. Silence taught me to cherish words, so that when I did speak again, it would be to teach. To share.”
I wish I was that profound. And, I let his words fill me. Words. I, too, had taken them for granted. Words (both written and spoken) are a way for us to communicate all that is dear to us with another. I thought about how many words I had wasted and for what purpose? In that moment, I promised to try and never waste any aspect of my life again, whether it be money, words, friendship, love.
Before I knew it, it was time for bed. I was exhausted. Relaxing and disconnecting is hard work! So, I drifted off to sleep almost immediately. I awoke sometime in the wee hours of the morning. Perhaps around 2:00 or 3:00. As there was no clock there, I can’t be certain. I awoke thinking about writing, my writing friends, my non-writing friends, my job, basically every aspect of my life. And I thought about the things that frustrate me the most in life, and realized, upon weighing them against the good, that my life is so very wonderful. And, while I knew that life had been kind to me this past year, I had a new appreciation for it. I wanted to hug it and hold it near.
The following morning, I was awoken at 4:30 to the sound of a gong. Morning meditation time. Several more hours of contemplation and disconnection awaited me. I wondered if I’d be able to do it. Really be able to disconnect again and not think about anything. Regardless of whether or not I succeeded, I enjoyed the challenge.
And, finally, I felt myself completely let go. I’m not sure how long it lasted, but there was absolutely nothing flowing through me except breath and life. No thoughts. Nothing. And in that moment (or moments, however long it happened). I felt it. True happiness. True liberation. Everything really did make sense. So simple. So warm. It was like a runner’s high, except even higher.
And then it ended. We were told it was over. That we made it through our retreat. That we could speak. And something odd happened. None of us did. Not right away. I feel like a lot of us in the room connected with a part of ourselves we never knew existed in those last few moments of our stay there. It was an elderly woman who finally broke the silence and simply just laughed. And smiled. And we all followed her shortly thereafter.
What do you say after an experience like that?
All I kept thinking about was what that one resident had said: ”I realized that so much of what I had said in my life was of little or no consequence. Silence taught me to cherish words.”
I have a long way to go on my spiritual journey. I don’t think it’s possible to ever finish this kind of journey, because life as we know it is constantly changing. Constantly urging us to get caught up in the moment and forget what is the most important.
If I learned anything during this visit, it was that I have more control over myself and my mind than I ever imagined. And I want to do something with that control. Something worthwhile not just for me, but for others too. I also wanted to make sure that once I re-entered the busy world, that I always remember to enjoy moments of peace and tranquility. Fit them into my day. Try to get to that place I did in those last few moments of the retreat. And to let go to a little more repressed hostility, sadness and bitterness each and every day. Pretend that I’m back in those woods.
Will I be going to another retreat? Oh, yes. I plan to sign up for a week-long retreat next summer. *Gulp* A whole week with no words.
You know what?
I can do it.
Tip of the Week:
What’s more stressful than the holidays, right? Make sure to take a moment during this busy season to find a quiet corner (even a closet if that’s all you can find). And, if only for a few moments, close your eyes and focus on your breath, slowly inhale and exhale. Visualize all those thoughts and worries in your mind. Grab them. All of them. Wrap them up in a box, maybe even throw a bow on top, and walk them to the back corner of your mind. They’ll be there when you need them again (if at all). And instead of focusing on the pain of your past, and the many, many hopes of your future, bask in the magnificence of today. You’re in control. You’re alive. And you matter.
No matter what holiday you celebrate, make it a happy one. Happiness is as simple as sadness. It’s a choice. I know that my happiness over this past year is due in large part to the amazing people who have surrounded me (both online and off). And for that, I will be eternally grateful.
Until next week, Happy Living!