Ughh, shut up mind (my experience at a silent retreat)
Every now and then I like to do something a bit random and weird — especially when I feel like things are getting a little monotonous and uninspiring.
It reminds me that I’m in control of where I’m headed -
keeps things interesting, etc.
So this October I thought I’d try a silent retreat with a mate, because she asked me, I love a bit of weirdness in my life and, WHY NOT.
I can be silent, I thought. EASY. I love quiet.
Doing nothing and being silent is actually really fucking hard.
Last week I was stressed out of my skull trying to keep up with the ‘everything is urgent’ demands at work, submitting my assignments on time & making an appearance on social media and my blog so that people didn’t forget about me — AND MY ADHD MIND, NANCE.
Every task I did at work was multi-tasked with another and I realised I didnt actually take a proper deep breath, all day, till getting in my car of an afternoon. So you can imagine my excitement for my 3 day long binge of peace and quiet and nothingness at my retreat.
On the 45 minute drive out there, I tried to prep myself by turning off the radio and just looking at and listening to what was going on around me.
About 10 mins into the silence, I noticed my mind panicked ever so slightly about all the things that COULD happen to me with no phone service and no one (besides Laura) actually having an address for where I was.
Standard mind shenanigans.
This story telling & catastrophizing got louder as I turned off the main road, onto a narrow, winding gravel road for the last 15 kms of my journey. Checking my phone, it said ‘no service’ — which suddenly made me nervous, Ironically, the day before, I was praying to not ever be bothered by anyone or anything again.
Make up your mind, mate.
It probably didn’t help that my car was low on petrol. My mind toyed with the idea that my car COULD break down out here — in the middle of nowhere — and I’d have no phone reception to ring NRMA, would I?
Like it thought that would just be the end of me and I’d surely die out here.
I argued back (silently) that I had 2 perfectly working legs and I could simply walk to the nearest house to ask for help. And Laura was out here somewhere too — following not far behind me in her car.
Next came the ‘what if this supposed peaceful ashram ends up being an evil cult’ story — so implausible, I know, yet here I was.
Have you noticed how your mind does this imagined storytelling? Its actually just trying to look out for us. I’ve learnt to non-judgementally observe as it flits from thought to thought, scenario to scenario… not reacting.
I knew at least 2 other people who had been to this same ashram and had come back perfectly healthy, of their own free will. Still, Nance warned me that I could have been tricked by all those friendly email exchanges. I COULD be heading into ‘uncontactable’ land — to meet some strangers who could brainwash me and never let me leave.
I argued back — if that was so, I’d worry about it if and when it came to it.
I was temporarily distracted (from evil cult story) when I came to a field full of black and white cows. I wondered if I was going the right way, my mind telling me I should check to make sure I put the right address into my navigation — because I’m shit with direction, and it suddenly looked like I was going to find myself in the driveway of someone’s farm.
The road got even windier and narrower at this point, and my mind finally quietened while I concentrated hard on keeping my car on the road.
Finally I arrived –
‘See’ — I thought — I WAS going the right way, you worried for nothing’. My friend Laura pulled up not long after me and we were greeted by a smiley, grey haired lady with a moustache. She looks happy, I thought. Like she’s here of her own free will, and perfectly with it (the evil cult story subsiding behind the other imagined scenarios).
Smiley, moustache lady gave us our itineraries and pointed to our dorm rooms, explaining there was no wifi or phone reception here.
I know — I thought, I’d already checked.
She said that ‘bush showering’ was applicable in the outdoor shared toilet block, and “Dinner’s at 6 — you’ll hear the gong” and left us.
Upstairs in our room, we noticed our roommate had already arrived — couldn’t tell you what her name was because we never actually got to formally introduce ourselves (no talking rule and all) but she looked like a Sandra or a Karen, to me… so we’ll go with that.
The room was clean and tidy, very modest and furnished with just a set of single bunk beds on the wall directly opposite the door, then a single bed on each of the other 2 walls. Each bed separated by a simple, white, bedside cupboard.
We dumped our things and went straight off to our first class — a yoga asana class — and we re-emerged at dinner time feeling like new women.
It was at the end of that class, on that first night, we were told that our group would observe MONA (complete silence) for the entire 3 days, until the morning of the last day — I don’t know why its called MONA but I imagined it was because you weren’t able to ‘whinge and MOAN’.
Melli, our teacher, said a simple smile spoke volumes here.
We were of the belief that we’d only have to observe silence from dinner time till breakfast time… so — they got us good with that one.
A few hours later, my mind (Nance) was stressing that she had nothing to stress about
She wasnt used to being RUDELY under-stimulated & ignored. She was used to focusing on hundreds of different activities a day and relentlessly judging everything and reporting back to me with its opinion.
Here -I had virtually nothing to stimulate me and all I could do was breath, eat and move my body (or not, in the case of the meditation classes).
At dinner time (which, by the way, I had plenty of opportunity to sit & ‘reflect’ at) I started thinking about my bedtime routine & what I’d do next. I decided I’d have a nice hot shower — which led me to my next thought of — FUCK, what will I dry myself with?
I realised I’d forgotten a number of somewhat important items in my lame attempt at packing earlier that day.
Those things were:
- A toothbrush, although, least importantly — the tooth PASTE, I managed to remember;
- Towel — now must use disgusting dog towel sitting conveniently in back of my car — dare I even bother?
- Drinking water / water bottle — Apparently there are no plastic water bottles here like they are readily available at home. Although, smiley, grey haired, moustache lady fished a used aluminium water bottle (which proudly declared: “I REFILL NOT LANDFILL” across the front) from the lost and found basket and said I could use that if I really wanted to. Tempting — moustache lady — tempting.
- Runners — which I later found out (as I was packing to leave) that I actually DID bring and had just carelessly kicked under my bunk bed in my rush to unpack and get to the first class (hurray, my brain does actually work).
I found that the whole no-talking thing dramatically reduces your compulsion to whinge and complain.
Now that we were being silent and mindful (non judgementally aware of what IS) — I accepted that being dehydrated, smelly & hairy (dog hairs) was my fate for the 3 days here.
This made me instantly feel like I should just get over it. And I did. Approximately 3 minutes later.
My mind, realising it couldn’t verbalize my complaint and keep the ‘woe is me’ story living in my head any longer, got bored with it and stopped caring.
HA (ground breaking)
More on my other AH-HA moments later (see LIGHTBULB MOMENTS below)
I’ll be honest, by the end of the second day I was feeling a bit restless and mental. Like I wanted to rip my hair out and scream in my teachers face.
For 7 hours straight — on the 2nd day — I battled with my mind to stay PRESENT and MINDFUL, sat for hours on end, meditating (I now have the flexibility of an olympic gymnast), rediscovered my love of note-writing (due to strict no talking rule — that me and my mate occasionally broke) AND, importantly, somewhat lessened my addiction to & reliance on technology.
What did my class schedule look like on this epic 7 hr day of meditating, you ask? Well here’s a cut and paste from our itinerary:
5am wake up
530am sunrise yoga class (mostly meditating, actually)
745am Ashram Chanting
8–9am Karma Yoga (mundane daily activities/chores done mindfully)
9am mindful walking (basically meditating while walking in nature)
930am mindfulness session (AKA meditating)
1030am morning tea break
11am mindfulness session (AKA meditating)
230pm yoga nidra (ancient indian practice of deep relaxation/meditation)
3pm afternoon tea
4pm mindful yoga (surprise, mostly meditating)
6pm dinner and clean up
715pm mindfulness session (AKA more meditating)
In hindsight, I dont know how I actually survived.
TO THE LIGHTBULB MOMENTS:
Lightbulb moment no. 1 — cease complaining about your issues (both in your mind and verbally) and watch how quickly they stop being a problem for you. Your problem is only as big of a deal as your mind makes it out to be.
Lightbulb moment no. 2 — Smiling is really powerful. No more of this “RBF (Resting Bitch Face) shit everyone keeps proclaiming they’re afflicted with on social medial.
Lightbulb moment no.3 — don’t sweat the small stuff. Being silent and not being able to do the little things that convince someone your not a total DICK like, introducing yourself to your stranger-room-mate, or saying thank you to the kitchen man serving you dinner, initially made me feel awkwardly rude — Like: “Does he know that my group are practicing MONA (silence) for the entire course or will he think I’m mute for not saying thank you?”
Followed by — “Stop overthinking, no one here care’s. Shut up and do your meditation”
These are the kinds of thoughts that run through your head when you stop talking & suddenly have a lot of time on your hands. Initially the internal mind chatter got more intense, but then after 7 hours of meditation classes I was so relaxed I felt drunk and my mind had ceased talking.
BLOODY VALUABLE TAKEAWAYS:
1. Deep breathing cures almost every type of mind induced freak out / anxiety (see my sister post on this here: Breath yourself to CALM with these 4 nifty techniques )
2. Lying on your back with your legs up a wall will get you ZEN in 10 mins
3. If you’re not comfortable (without being in a lying down position, don’t do that, you’ll fall asleep) you’re making it that much harder to have a ‘successful’ meditation. Your mind will just focus on your UN comfortableness instead of ‘switching off’
4. There’s nothing wrong with just ‘being’. Initially, when you finally stop all your ‘doing’ and being busy — it could feel alien to you, and your mind might get all fidgety and racey — but you just focus on your breath. Watch your mind flit around anxiously with amusement rather than getting caught up in it.
5. Respond rather than react next time you find yourself in a challenging situation. Responding comes from having paused and giving it some thought. Taking a breath first. Reacting is habitual and can often be done without thinking (and often, later on, regretted)
Would I do it again?
Yeah, probably. But I’m thinking 2/3 days (tops) is enough time out for me. I was ready and raring to get back into the swing of things after the 2nd day!
Read more here(where this was originally posted).