5 things I learnt from a week spent in silence…
Some of you will know I recently spent a week on an insight meditation retreat. What does that mean? It’s switching off completely from all devices and creating the space for deep reflection and meditation. So no phones, laptops, ipads, books, writing, music or talking. Yes that’s right – no talking. A week spent without uttering a word. Most people I told about the retreat quickly exclaimed how they could never do that, but that side of things was easier than I thought. The freedom created through not having to speak was profound and the headspace it created left me feeling relaxed and refreshed. I found the retreat hugely transformative so I wanted to share some of the things I learnt while I was there:
There is great freedom in switching off
I didn’t realise both how easy this would be but also how beneficial. When was the last time you actually switched off your devices for a full 24 hours? If you’re anything like me, it was probably before the iphone was invented. But I found huge benefit in doing this for a week. The roles that we each occupy, as partners, managers, friends, daughters, parents etc. can feel pretty heavy at times and to have those temporarily lifted, can feel like a huge relief. Through switching off and taking some time for myself, it enabled me to feel refreshed and like I can give more to those roles on my return.
It also scares me how attached to our devices we are. We know it’s not healthy, yet we find it so hard to detach from them. It made me realise that the world doesn’t fall apart when we’re offline and we can gain such a lot of headspace and freedom from not having our phones on us all of the time.
Patience, patience, patience
‘Patience is the highest virtue.’ We were reminded of this again and again on retreat. Meditation requires a huge amount of patience and this is something you are developing throughout your practice there. Want to stop meditation early – no chance. Want to google whether the weather will be ok for a walk later – nope. Want to try and pass the time by distracting yourself with something – no to that too.
It wasn’t hard to see how this could easily spill over into other areas of your life; in relationships, at work, with our families. The practice of patience for me, has saved many rows from taking place and allows me the time to see things from other people’s perspective. It is such an undervalued quality in our fast-paced world, but an incredibly important one.
Pain will be your greatest teacher
We can learn so much from our reactions to pain. We are conditioned to resist the emotions and sensations that we don’t like. We push pain away and try to mentally escape it. We take a painkiller, have a drink or try to distract ourselves. In mindfulness, we practice doing the opposite – we turn towards pain; we lean in. One of my meditation teachers told me ‘pain will be your greatest teacher’ and he was right. Sitting cross-legged on the floor for long periods of time, was often painful, but his words rung in my ears and rather than trying to run away from the pain, I approached it with curiosity and patience. This can change your whole experience of pain, not just the physical but also emotional. It’s the resisting of pain that causes the suffering, not the pain itself.
Peace doesn’t come quietly
By the time I left the retreat, I felt a very deep sense of peace, but this wasn’t the case throughout the week. It can be very noisy up there in your mind and with such a lot of meditation a day this can feel frustrating, uncomfortable and at times painful. Our active minds don’t switch off the moment you hit the cushion, and we are easily distracted by the theatre of our thoughts. This is part of the challenge; observing that without resisting, latching on or judging. Only when we learn to do this, can peace be found.
A selfless practice?
Ok so perhaps it wasn’t entirely selfless, but one thing we were constantly reminded of on retreat is that the work we were doing was not for us; it was for others.
When we grow as people, when we deeply challenge ourselves and develop new skills, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking it’s for our own benefit, which of course to some extent it is. But really the people that benefit from it are those around us – through personal growth we become better friends, partners, colleagues, daughters, parents. etc.
This served as a very strong motivation during the challenges we faced in the week. The skills and mental discipline that are developed through meditation – patience, presence, compassion, self-awareness, are of great benefit to those around us. It’s also a little reminder that self-care isn’t selfish. It really does help us give back to others.
If you’re thinking of doing a silent retreat, I would highly recommend it. Find a week in your agenda where you’ll be most comfortable switching off and then take the leap…
Mel Crate is the founding director of Luminate.