- Why I quit my job and went to a meditation retreat (but you don’t have to)
- How I learned to incorporate mindfulness into my life
- Why you should live a mindful life—starting today
- A simple technique that promotes mindfulness
- If mindfulness is so great, why doesn’t everyone practice it?
- Introducing my new book
- Who is my book for?
- What a Silent Meditation Retreat is (and How to Find One)
- What is Buddhism About?
- The Vipassana Retreat
- Does it Work?
- Other Retreat Formats
- My Week of ‘Noble Silence’
- 5 Crucial Things I Learned From My 10-Day Silent Meditation Retreat
- 2. I fell in love with the quiet and stillness
- 3. I cultivated a new level of awareness
- 4. Nothing is permanent, things are constantly changing
- 5. The more you crave, it multiplies. The more you hate, it intensifies. The more love you give, it magnifies
Why I quit my job and went to a meditation retreat (but you don’t have to)
If you’ve been a Hack Spirit reader for a while, you probably know my story.
If you’re new to my site, here it is.
6 years ago, I was a ridiculously average guy lifting boxes at a warehouse for a living.
Now don’t get me wrong:
There’s nothing shameful about working at a warehouse. The job was fine, but I wasn’t. Nowhere near in fact.
My anxiety was out-of-control and I barely slept 3 hours a night. I’d experienced all of this for most of my life, but never to this degree.
I was constantly fighting against it, which only made it worse.
And no matter what I tried, nothing worked.
The simple truth was I was a guy in my mid-20s who was deeply unhappy. I had few satisfying relationships – with friends or women – and a monkey mind that just wouldn’t shut itself off.
My life seemed to be going nowhere.
But then I started reading all I could about eastern philosophy and something twigged.
How I learned to incorporate mindfulness into my life
I realized I needed to work with my anxiety rather than against it. I needed to accept it, rather than fight it.
Basically I needed to live a more mindful life.
An important insight, but I also needed techniques to practice it properly.
So on a whim, I quit my job and went to Thailand on a meditation retreat.
It was a risky decision, but I can quite honestly say that the techniques I learned on this retreat changed my life.
I learned how to accept my emotions and improve my focus.
I learned to sync my attention, so that my mind and body were in the same place at the same time.
A retreat such as this is something I wish everyone could do, but the sad reality is that most people just don’t have the time.
And most people can’t just quit your job on a whim I did.
But this is what you need to know:
While meditation retreats are wonderful, they are not the only way to bring mindfulness into your life.
Over the last 6 years, I’ve learned a hell of a lot about mindfulness and eastern philosophy. And I can tell you with absolute certainty that you don’t have to travel to the most remote cave or mountain or desert to find a sense of calm, acceptance, and peace.
All of these things are already in your mind. It is called mindfulness, after all.
You can learn how to meditate, foster healthier relationships, heal from pain and trauma, and unburden yourself from intrusive negative thoughts right here, right now, where you already are.
Mindfulness has the power to transform your life, just it did mine.
My website, Hack Spirit, is now one of the largest media sites on mindfulness and practical psychology for everyday living with over two million monthly readers.
I truly believe that the mindfulness techniques I learned 6 years ago, and have been blogging about ever since, can be incredibly valuable for anyone.
Why you should live a mindful life—starting today
Ever feel your days are way more difficult than they should be?
When we mentally self-sabotage ourselves, every molehill becomes a mountain and everything from our work, to relationships, to exercising, to just trying to relax and enjoy a quiet moment, becomes a struggle.
Now, what exactly do I mean by ‘mental self-sabotage’? Well, if you’re experiencing…
- Fear, stress, and anxiety as part of your everyday life
- An overactive mind that just won’t quiet down
- You’re constantly multitasking (a surefire way to exhaust yourself and feel unfulfilled at the end of the day)
- You feel life is a non-stop grind where you’re often worn down and unhappy.
… then you’re trapped in the cycle of mental self-sabotage.
This was me exactly 6 years ago. I lived with anxiety, insomnia and way too much useless thinking going on in my head
But no matter how overwhelmed you may currently be feeling, there is one crucial thing to understand.
Something which Buddhists and Hindus have known for centuries.
The relaxed, quiet confidence you so badly desire is ALREADY INSIDE YOU. All you have to do is learn how to tap into it—and the most effective way to do this is through the daily application of mindfulness.
A simple technique that promotes mindfulness
I want to share with you a simple technique to achieve a state of mindfulness.
The truth is you don’t need to meditate for 30+ minutes every day to live a mindful life.
In fact, you don’t need to meditate at all.
Sure, meditation is a great method to bring your body, mind, and spirit into alignment in the present.
This promotes mindfulness (which is our ultimate goal)
However, there are many different ways to go about achieving mindfulness – either in conjunction with meditation, or as standalone exercises you can do during a busy day.
Don’t believe me? Check out this practical exercise that I talk about in my book The Art of Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Living in The Moment.
This exercise is what I to call the “body scan”.
Scanning your body is an excellent way to check in and really pay attention to how your body feels in the present moment.
You can perform this exercise during your regular meditation practice, or even when you have a spare five minutes at home.
To be honest, you can even use this for 15 seconds during the day.
It gives you the opportunity to identify any points of tension or soreness without judgement. There’s no need to “fix” anything.
Instead, the goal is to focus on how different parts of your body feel in the moment.
You can even do the body scan while lying on your back.
So, how do you go about it?
Start by centering yourself on your breath, noticing your inhales and exhales without trying to change the natural rhythm of your breathing. Next, turn your focus to your body, beginning either from the top or the bottom.
If you begin with your head: How is it feeling today? How are your neck and shoulders? Continue moving down, lingering for several moments on each part of your body and noticing any stiffness, tension, soreness, or any other sensations.
Now is not the time to try to fix those feelings. Simply notice them and move on.
Or conversely, you might be pleasantly surprised at how loose, supple, and relaxed your body feels. Take the time to savor this observation, then continue scanning.
Notice how your clothes feel against your skin, how your body feels against the chair or floor, and how warm or cool your body feels.
Are you itchy anywhere? If you begin with your feet: How are they feeling today? Are they sore? Tingly?
Linger on them for a few moments, then begin scanning higher, up to your ankles, your calves, and so on, until you reach your head.
Once you have scanned your entire body, you can return once again to your breath, then slowly come your meditation.
This is one of my favorite mindfulness techniques.
Because when you intentionally focus your attention on incoming sensory data, such as the feeling of the water on your hands while you wash, it reduces activation of the narrative circuitry in your brain.
When you focus on your senses, you activate the “direct experience network”.
You’re not thinking about the past, future or even yourself.
Rather you’re focused on information coming into your senses. According to neuroscience, the great thing is that both of these networks in the brain are inversely correlated.
The more you focus on your senses, the more you’ll activate the direct experience network and the less you’ll be lost in useless worries.
That’s exactly my experience.
It’s just a matter of getting in the routine of doing it constantly.
The brilliant thing is that you can use a “body scan” throughout the day. It’s just a matter of taking the time to focus on what your senses are experiencing.
If mindfulness is so great, why doesn’t everyone practice it?
The benefits of mindfulness are no secret.
Many celebrities, athletes and CEOs credit a daily habit of mindfulness as crucial for their success.
Scientists have discovered that regular meditation can enhance your concentration, lower your stress levels, and improve the quality of your sleep.
Psychologists have even started using meditation to treat depression, chronic pain and PTSD.
With the daily application of mindfulness you can wake up in the morning with a clear mind, full of energy and motivation to achieve your goals.
If mindfulness has so many obvious benefits, why doesn’t everyone do it?
Here’s what I think.
A lot of information about mindfulness is esoteric and difficult to understand.
For instance, advice about showing gratitude to the universe or experiencing joy simply isn’t applicable to most people’s lives.
And I believe mindfulness – a practical, down-to-earth technique that everyone can practice – has been unfairly lumped with new-age nonsense “the law of attraction”, “energy” and “vibrations”.
These phrases may sound nice but they don’t work in reality.
That’s why I decided to write a book about mindfulness that distills this valuable strategy in a clear, easy-to-follow way, with practical techniques and tips.
Introducing my new book
Here’s my book: The Art of Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Living in the Moment.
In this eBook, you’ll get simple, actionable tips that you can put into practice straight away.
I’ll walk you through your first meditation, and give you some straightforward but powerful exercises to help you be more mindful every day.
Other mindfulness guides on the market can confuse you with frustrating esoteric and technical descriptions and language.
My book, however, is specifically designed to make the core tenants and application of mindfulness as easy-to-absorb as possible.
Through plain everyday language, and powerful exercises (that you’ll benefit from in mere minutes), I’ll show you exactly what you need to know to bring mindfulness into your life and break the cycle of anxiety and stress for good.
We leave abstract and theoretical concerns behind. Instead, the book is about you: a happier, calmer, wiser you.
Click here to check out it out.
Who is my book for?
If you want to live a mindful, peaceful and happier life, then my eBook is definitely for you.
The Art of Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Living in The Moment is your doorway to the life-changing benefits of practicing mindfulness.
Let’s face it: mindfulness can be an intimidating topic for the uninitiated.
You might be thinking you need to live a monk, become a hardcore yogi, or possess some deep spiritual inclinations to practice and benefit from mindfulness.
But with my guide you’ll discover that successfully living a mindful life is actually quite simple—as long as you’re armed with the right knowledge and essential techniques.
And in this eBook, I provide you with that.
No confusing jargon. No fancy chanting. No strange lifestyle changes.
Just a highly-practical, easy-to-follow guide for improving your health, success, and happiness through mindful living.
What a Silent Meditation Retreat is (and How to Find One)
What is a 10-day silent meditation retreat, why the heck would anyone do it, and where do you find them?
People at all stages of life meditate and feel called to attend a retreat. It doesn’t have to be at a crossroads or for any particular reason, it might just be the elixir to put you back on a healthy path. That was my hope when I went into it, and in this post I share my experience, why I went to one in the first place, and resources on how you can experience it too, if you wish.
It all began in Thailand when I hit a low point.
Four months into the solo trip of a lifetime that I’d saved, dreamed and given up everything for, I crashed down hard, metaphorically, and was left mystified. The first few weeks, I couldn’t imagine that anything was better than life on the road. It felt so carefree, enriching, and stimulating. But what went up, came down.
Long story short, girl met boy, boy went back home while girl stayed on the road, and the relationship hit the skids. Plus I thought that all the personal problems that I’d left behind when I quit my old job and ended my old lease would just evaporate, but they didn’t. Could a meditation retreat fix me?
What is Buddhism About?
Silent meditation retreats are the Buddha’s teachings about life and suffering.
To summarize, Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths are:
- To exist is to suffer.
- The cause of suffering is craving — craving for things to be different or wishing for more, or less.
- Nirvana can be reached when there is no more ignorance or suffering.
- The way to Nirvana is through the Eightfold Path.
What does that mean?
We constantly take ourselves the present moment and look to external things for satisfaction. We buy things to feel better, because we want things to be different than they are. It’s a common idea that a relationship, better car, better house etc. will make people happier.
Advertising is great at keeping us on this wheel. Simultaneously, we crave for things to stay the same. To stay looking younger, to keep children sweet and obedient, or to keep a relationship in its honeymoon phase.
It’s not often that we’re completely in the present moment, unencumbered by worries about the future or the past.
If you’d to read more, a friend of mine recommended the book, What Makes You Not a Buddhist to me when I began my exploration. She’s a scientist and atheist, so I knew this wouldn’t be some kind of conversion or preachy book. Trusting her, I read it, and it felt something I’d always known to be true but hadn’t realized was an ancient belief system predating Christianity.
Without at least a basic knowledge of Buddhism’s teachings, some retreats can be difficult. The one I did had very little ‘hand-holding’, while others have a bit more. While the book can give you a great introduction, the retreat is where you put it all to work.
The Vipassana Retreat
That all sounded good to me, and I wanted more. I started looking for meditation retreats in Southeast Asia on Dhamma.org, because it’s what came up first on Google, and happened upon Wat Suan Mokkh. The next 10-day silent Vipassana retreat would take place just a few days later, beginning on New Year’s Eve.
The thing is, I’d never actually tried meditation before.
I had no real grasp on what I was committing to, and even if I had practiced meditation, nothing could have prepared me for the moments of heaven and hell that I was about to experience.
Meditating for five minutes and meditating for 240 hours are, perhaps, the same game but one is Pop Warner and one is the Super Bowl, if I may use a sports analogy.
What I also didn’t know is that Wat Suan Mokkh’s approach is quite traditional, which is to say strict, with little to no comforts. We were sleeping on concrete, with a wooden ‘pillow’, and going down to only one meal per day by the end.
As is typical of Vipassana, a meditation style developed in neighboring Myanmar, we only slept for six hours per night. We had to turn in our electronics and were not allowed to read, write, exercise, or wear makeup and perfume.
This is how Buddhist monks and nuns often live, and we were to emulate them.
The meditation took place in an open air hall on raked sand. My twice-daily chore was to rake the sand in the hall, which was pretty lucky considering some people had to clean toilets.
The schedule was regimented, with a morning yoga session followed by sitting meditation, then a light breakfast of rice porridge and vegetables, followed by chores, more sitting meditation, sometimes a Dharma talk led by a monk, meant to help us understand meditation better, then even more sitting meditation followed by walking meditation, and so on until nighttime.
Does it Work?
Did it fix me? Well, I spent the first few days hating almost every moment. I saw people begin to drop flies, leaving en masse. It’s hard to sleep on concrete, but it’s even harder to be stuck with your thoughts without distractions. It wasn’t until I sat in that meditation hall, silent for 18 waking hours per day, that I realized what a dick my mind is.
It would just obsess. Obsess over people, obsess over things that happened long ago, or things that might happen in the future. I couldn’t believe how repetitive it was. My impression back then was that to successfully meditate you had to be free from thought. Now I understand that the thoughts will be there, but the aim is to not get carried away or identify with them.
I found myself getting frustrated at times. The Thai monk in charge would just repeat, “not me, not mine,” and I didn’t understand what that meant. Then somewhere around day 8, I realized that he meant my mind was just a part of the larger human consciousness.
This isn’t just a Buddhist principle. According to Nobel Prize-winning physicist Erwin Schrödinger, “ Their multiplicity is only apparent, in truth there is only one mind.”
I’ve also since learned about something called the negativity bias, which states that human consciousness evolved to survive in the face of danger.
Back when there were sabertooth tigers, that was imperative. But nowadays that negativity bias still plagues us even though there is no tiger hiding in the bush in Central Park.
This bias is inherent to us and was handed down from generations ago.
How can we ever be sure of who we are? We can’t simply be what we do for a living, because as soon as that changes, does that mean we don’t exist anymore? It can’t be where we’re from, because modern culture didn’t even exist until a few hundred years ago. It’s a false identity. The masks we wear are for the most part conditioned and adopted.
Most people are completely run by their minds and have no idea. Most people never stop to examine and question their thoughts. What if meditation could put an end to all that?
Meditation is about not letting our thoughts control our lives.
It’s about flipping our emotions and thoughts on their head, examining them and questioning if they really deserve to take center stage. In these moments of silence, I can better see my truth.
As the Director of Brand Relations here at BMTM described it, having been to the same monastery (which is actually how she found me!), “It was after the silent meditation retreat that I finally had the chance to look inside me and try to understand who exactly this person is. I walked the retreat feeling a newborn, yet with an understanding that my past will always be a part of my life story, and I want to embrace it and give it love.”
Other Retreat Formats
There are many different ways that meditation retreats are carried out. A typical Vipassana retreat will be a minimum of 10 days, while some go for 6 months. A traditional center will be donation-based, although you’ll see plenty of options all around the world that are upscale and quite expensive, the famous Spirit Rock in California.
For a traditional approach that follows the format I described, with varying degrees of comfort, worldwide centers are listed here. These should all be donation-based.
There are other options if you’d a gentler, less silent approach:
- Plum Village in France offers everything from monthlong summer retreats to several day neuroscience retreats, which piques my interest. These do not appear to be fully silent, though.
- Eleven Directions in Dharamsala, India provides a chance to learn from the Dalai Lama himself.
- Kadampa New York has silent retreats specifically for beginners that are shorter than 10 days.
- Ala Kukui hosts Hula retreats in Maui, a strong spiritual center of the world.
Since Wat Suan Mokkh, I’ve done another silent meditation retreat at the New Life Foundation in Chiang Rai, which I heard about through word of mouth, that was much gentler. We had three meals per day, no chores, and a very soft and comfy bed to sleep in each night.
Our meditation teacher was from the US and spent a good portion of each morning explaining techniques – something that was missing from my previous experience.
I had to pay for my lodging plus make a donation – the room was around $360 for the 5 days plus I gave a self-chosen $200 donation to the teacher.
I can see the benefit of Suan Mokkh – you’re meant to break down all barriers and to go right to your edge. You’re supposed to find your own way, but I think this is why so many people left early. It’s what I would call tough love.
Whatever you choose, remember that meditating in silence without being able to communicate, listen to music, exercise on your own terms, read, or write is intense.
But if you can surrender, you’ll learn something.
Will it be a cure-all for all of life’s problems? Nothing is, and 10 days won’t fundamentally change who you are, but it can be a catalyst, and an effective remedy for our ego trips if we keep practicing.
In the coming weeks, I’ll be diving more into the spiritual side of traveling, including Tantra, more retreats around the world worth checking out, and more spiritual practices that are life-changing. See you next Sunday.
My Week of ‘Noble Silence’
Continue reading the main story
Holding a transparent plastic pouch, my cellphone zipped inside with a white label displaying my name in bold letters, I followed the line as it snaked toward the front of the meditation hall.
With a small knot in my belly, I inched forward and approached the small stage where five meditation teachers sat silently.
When it was my turn to stand front and center, I placed the bag into a deep wicker basket — piled high with other phones in plastic bags — waiting for the reverberating gong of a Tibetan singing bowl to announce its surrender. I walked back to my meditation cushion, took a deep breath, and felt a wave of lightness come over me.
This ceremony was the start of my silent meditation retreat in February at the Insight Meditation Society, a retreat center on 400 wooded acres in Barre, Mass., just 60 miles from Boston.
While preparing for my youngest child to leave for college, I decided I was ready to take the next step toward deepening my eight-year meditation practice — a silent retreat.
When an internet search guided me to one called “Path to Awakening,” led by Joseph Goldstein, a co-founder of the meditation society and a renowned teacher of vipassana meditation, also known as mindfulness or insight meditation, I signed up. After I told my friend and fellow meditator, Jo Brody, about my plans, she opted in, too.
Silent retreats have been attracting meditators for thousands of years, and with recent research confirming the benefits of mindfulness and meditation — reduced stress levels, lower blood pressure and improved sleep, for example — a growing number of travelers are going on them.
“The meditation retreat is one of the fastest-growing trends within the fastest-growing sector in tourism: wellness travel,” said Beth McGroarty, vice president of research, at the Global Wellness Institute, a nonprofit that promotes wellness.
Meditation is seeing the kind of growth that yoga did a few years ago, she said and is now a billion dollar business with a rapidly rising number of participants — the number of adults meditating in the U.S. more than tripled to 14.2 percent in 2017 from 4.
1 percent in 2012.
Leading up to my week of silence, I read the FAQs on the website, glanced at the schedule, and deliberated whether to bring snowshoes (I didn’t) and a stash of dark chocolate (I did).
I worried about feeling disconnected and lonely, and even concocted an exit strategy that involved borrowing Jo’s car and returning to pick her up a week later. As a life coach, I frequently encourage my clients to push themselves their comfort zone: “That’s where the growth happens,” I tell them.
Now that I was entering a new phase of life — no children at home for the first time in 25 years — it felt an opportunity for me to walk the talk.
In the parking lot on arrival day, Jo and I met Josh Senders from Port Washington, N.Y., a second-time participant. I was relieved to learn that silence would not begin until the following morning, and not, as I’d feared, the second we crossed the center’s threshold.
Entering the building, a former monastery with towering Georgian pillars displaying the word Metta (or loving-kindness in Pali, an ancient Indian language), I felt a bit less daunted, knowing I had a few more hours to call my children and remind my husband to feed and walk the dog.
Once inside, we entered the meditation hall to choose a zabaton, a large square cushion that would be home to our meditation sits for the week. We each placed a shawl on a cushion at opposite ends of the same row to avoid eye contact. Initially hesitant about having a friend on retreat, I felt comforted having Jo there, and we agreed to keep a physical distance.
A starter kit for escaping into the world.
After getting our room assignments — a single, dorm space — we were guided to a table to receive a “yogi job,” a traditional element on retreats where guests are assigned a daily task to bring mindfulness to everyday activities, such as washing dishes. Waiting for the woman who would assign mine, I overheard Jo’s conversation with the guy in charge of hers. “Would you to be a pot scrubber or a vegetable chopper?” he asked. Jo chose the chopping job.
Then it was my turn. “Your yogi job will be to clean Main Hall bathrooms I and II each day after lunch,” said the volunteer.
“Do I have a choice?” I asked. “No, not unless you have a physical disability preventing you from doing the job,” she answered.
In that instant, I thought back to the mindfulness lessons and podcasts I’d listened to over the years, reminding myself to take a breath, and just be with whatever I was feeling. (Jealousy? Disappointment? Irritation?)
The first evening meal was filled with chatter. The people at my table had traveled from Maine and Seattle, Brooklyn and Dallas. Some were first timers, who me, were happy to get the lowdown from the veterans.
Do you have to attend every meditation session? (Some do, others take breaks and meditate elsewhere, some take a nap.
) Are there any long walks or trails on the property? (There’s a three-mile loop on neighboring roads and a map posted outside the office.)
Following dinner, all 100 of us yogis went to the meditation hall where we were introduced to the retreat’s three teachers, and two teacher-trainees. In preparation for the week ahead, Mr. Goldstein offered a few suggestions. “Relax and be alert; maintain a continuous practice of being mindful even when you aren’t in the meditation hall; and slow down,” he said.
Each day followed the same pattern — sitting meditations alternating with walking meditations, each lasting 45 or 60 minutes at a time, for a total of somewhere between six and seven hours of meditation a day. On a few occasions there was a mindful movement, or gentle yoga class.
We woke at 5:30 a.m. to the clang of a brass bell for the day’s first sit at 6 a.m. All meals were eaten in silence, save for the clanking of silverware and unavoidable sneezes and coughs.
Talking was permitted only in a few instances: during small-group meetings scheduled with each teacher; after each evening’s dharma talk — delivered by a teacher on a specific Buddhist teaching or practice — when time was allotted for asking questions; and during one hour of “mindful open time” on the retreat’s final afternoon.
The intention of the retreat was to be mindful of each bite, each step, each sound and each breath. That was good advice for the mind, but what about the body? Mine ached. I tried adding cushions and sitting on a chair, but after hours of sitting in the same position, neither helped. During my first group meeting, nearly all of us complained of body aches. The antidote: Ibuprofen.
Walking meditation was also helpful for the aches and pains. Some yogis practiced in the hallways, dining hall, or anywhere they could find space, while others braved the cold outside.
On one below-freezing afternoon, about a dozen of us walked in slow motion on the front lawn, floating one foot thoughtfully into the air before placing it down and lifting the next.
Had you been driving past, you might have thought you’d stumbled onto the set of a zombie film.
Back on my cushion, I struggled with distraction. Wrapped inside my shawl during a post-dinner sit, my body heat suddenly rose, interrupting the focus on my breath. I shed a layer.
Temperature moderated, my attention then wandered to the sounds of a heavy breather two rows in front of me, and later to the squeaks emanating from the heating pipes. I used strategies, such as counting breaths to stay focused, and mentally noting each distraction — Thinking. Hearing. Tingling.
— but it didn’t always work. “Thoughts are little dictators telling us what to do and we often listen to them,” said Mr. Goldstein.
Not speaking to the other yogis was easier than I’d expected. We were asked to keep “noble silence,” which in addition to verbal quiet, meant not reading (I cheated on this one), not journaling, and averting our eyes when passing others to give them a sense of spiritual refuge. Exceptions were made, for people whose kitchen jobs involved interaction with others.
Being together but silent forms a “tremendous community,” said Sharon Salzberg, a meditation teacher and co-founder of the retreat center. “There’s an intensification with silence, where you don’t have to present yourself as interesting or funny, and there’s a lot of freedom or joy in that.”
My yogi job was a different story. Alone and armed with a pair of disposable blue gloves, I tried to bring a mindful approach to my task. Following laminated instructions, I focused on the sounds as I scrubbed the toilets, sinks and showers. I mopped the floors, noticing the motion of my arms and being mindful not to bang the mop into the sink legs.
Every chance I got, I went outdoors. During my walks, I had an eye-to-eye exchange with an owl, watched a large beaver leave a frozen pond to cross a road, and marveled at iced-over berries that hung marbles. I wished I could capture these encounters with my camera-ready phone but captured them in my mind instead.
Sitting at meals — not speaking, reading, scrolling or watching a screen — was a true exercise in being in the present moment.
Moving through the buffet line, I piled my plate high with the flavorful vegetarian food, expressed my gratitude (silently!), and counted how many colors were on my plate.
My best entertainment: an exquisitely placed bird feeder outside the dining hall windows. Every meal provided an all-out war between squirrels and birds.
With all the stillness, many of us yearned for distraction. A large white board sat outside the office, displaying the group meeting schedules, locations for daily affinity sits and folded up notes from a yogi to a teacher.
We had been told to provide a family member with the front office number, and in case of emergency, a message would be posted on the white board.
As though breaking news might come in hourly, a crowd built in front of the board every time we exited the meditation hall.
By the end of the week, while the days had taken on a tranquil, rhythmic pace, I was ready to go home. I missed my family, and knowing what was happening in the world. The daily routine was growing monotonous. On my final day scrubbing toilets, I gleefully tossed those blue gloves into the garbage bin.
Did a week of silence change my life? I hadn’t come on retreat in search of that kind of epiphany (I have a therapist for that). I came rather seeking an adventure, and a deeper knowledge of the power of meditation that only extended time can give. The week had given me a sort of spa experience for my mind, protected from the distractions and stressors of daily life.
For Jo, the retreat brought a deeper insight about meditation’s purpose. “On retreat, I learned that the point is not to lose yourself, which is more relaxing, but to find yourself, and that was harder work in a good way.”
52 PLACES AND MUCH, MUCH MORE Follow our 52 Places traveler, Sebastian Modak, on Instagramas he travels the world, and discover more Travel coverage by following us on and . And sign up for our Travel Dispatch newsletter: Each week you’ll receive tips on traveling smarter, stories on hot destinations and access to photos from all over the world.
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5 Crucial Things I Learned From My 10-Day Silent Meditation Retreat
So often we are waking up to messages on our phones, eating breakfast with our laptops and meeting our friends for lunch without being fully present because we are thinking about the past or the future.
Not being able to have any technology was an enriching and refreshing experience.
I could be fully present with my food, present with the way I moved, and present with myself.
And being in the present is a precious gift in itself.
2. I fell in love with the quiet and stillness
I was able to have peace with my thoughts and accept them just as they are.
My thoughts were just going through moments and memories that happened in the past.
It felt cleaning up an old attic of memories that had cobwebs around them.
I’m not sure if the physical pain was linked to emotions, but painful and pleasant sensations would come and go.
As everything does.
I loved those quiet moments when we had a five-minute break and I would go look at the sunlight peeking through the trees, and watch the leaves move from a slight breeze.
Since I couldn’t read or write, or even be outside for too long, I would sneak in a little moments to watch the ants move.
3. I cultivated a new level of awareness
Usually, the types of meditations I would do were either by myself or guided.
With the vipassana (insight meditation) method, I was able to meditate and only notice the sensations of my body without adding anything extra visualization or mantra meditation.
Sometimes I would feel vibration, electricity, and at other times, pain and stiffness.
My legs and feet would fall asleep and there was nothing I could do.
There is so much wisdom and insight you can get by just sitting with yourself in silence.
You get to experience the true nature of your thoughts, without all the outside B.S. influencing you.
4. Nothing is permanent, things are constantly changing
It is a technique to truly be aware and embody this.
We hear this all the time and see it pop up on our Instagram feed, but until you feel or experience it, it just won’t matter.
It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, “this too shall pass.”
5. The more you crave, it multiplies. The more you hate, it intensifies. The more love you give, it magnifies
Did you ever play with the Chinese finger trap when you were a child? It’s a small circular cylinder woven bamboo.
You put your fingers in at both ends and once they are in, they’re stuck.
Initially, your first reaction is to pull your fingers away from each other almost pulling the delicate little toy apart. The more you pull, the tighter it becomes. Frustration builds and you. just. can’t. get. out. You’re fully trapped.
So, then you let go and surrender to it. In that surrender, you face your present situation and are able to get through it.
The trick is that when you push your fingers towards the middle, you create the space to get it, and then you’re free.
Vipassana is a little bit that.
You sit with your body, and you sit with your pain.
The more you accept without aversions or cravings, the more space you create for yourself.
But the more love and Metta (loving-kindness) you give to yourself and others, the more it magnifies.
And love is the reason we are all here existing on this tiny floating rock in the universe, baby.