Here’s what I learned from 1 week of silence
Before going to New Zealand, I decided to go to a meditation retreat. Me and Andra planned the end of our trip in the South of Thailand, so I found one on Koh Paghan. An island notoriously famous for THE Full Moon party. I know. I know.
The island is pretty big though. There is the party side to it, as well as the yogi one. My priority was the full moon party of course. Which turned out to be the same-same, but 100 times bigger your average Thai let’s- get- wasted — on- buckets party.
I was interested to go to the retreat due to a book I read on depression. And meditation as an equally, if not a better way to deal with it compared to the anti-depressants.
Luckily, I don’t have a depression but that got me curious. I’ve also been curious about the lessons of Buddhism which this Vipassana retreat provided in a healthy, non-dogmatic starters dose. Anyways Buddhism is not even a religion, as there is no god to ‘worship’. And Buddha identified himself as a physicist, not a religious leader.
So after 3 months of spending every single day together, me and Andra went off our own ways. All of the sudden I felt so alone. I thought this is the worst time ever to face my demons. I was afraid my loneliness would take over me and I will end up crying at the retreat every day.
Day one was shit. We had to wake up at 4am. Straight to the mediation hall. Mediate for hours and then breakfast. Meditate. Lunch 11am- last meal of the day. Well, at least I’m gonna come out of this a skinny bitch, I thought to myself.
On day two or three I already felt a bit more human again. I had no problems waking up so early even without an alarm. Sometimes it freaks me out that I wake up exactly five minutes before I plan to. WTF brain?
Every day it was easier and easier to meditate. There were barely any distractions. We were in a jungle on a tropical island. We were fed delicious food. For the first time in my life I noticed how much better I felt when eating so much fruit and vegetables. And that you won’t starve if you eliminate animal products or the third meal of the day.
My biggest distractions though were a new roomy and a lady with a chair.
The New Roommate
The very, very first day when we could still talk, I heard some Russian. I noticed one of the women speaking it to another guy. She moved into my room out of the blue on the second day of silence. After my little victory dance, celebrating that I had the premises all to myself. Deamnit.
She had that sad, angry Eastern European face. I quickly made gazillion judgements. She never smiled. Well, in all fairness nobody did the first half of the week. I guess I was the only weirdo.
I felt the benefits of such intense mediation almost straight away. I felt like Bradly Cooper in the Limitless. Ok, maybe not that dramatic. But my mind was really clear. I had an abundance of energy. I wanted to become a nun.
I observed these negative thoughts of having a room -mate. And of course it didn’t matter on day two or three. Actually I was happy there was someone else to scare the scorpions away as I sheepishly took the top of the bunk bed.
One week later, once the silence was broken, we could finally make a conversation. All of the sudden I saw Natasha in a completely different light. This super nice, beautiful yogi, who DOES know how to smile. Of course I didn’t have a chance to get to know her properly in such a short time. But I got a connection with this kind and super sincere person, to the point that I would happily make an effort to see her again one day.
Needless to say, I was super embarrassed about all my stupid judgments made at the very beginning, when this Russian Mother Therese ‘broke’ my peace.
The Squeaking Chair
I noticed this older lady in a group. It was definitely not her first time at the retreat. She seemed very committed and dedicated. Like here, I chose a place right in the first line of the meditation hall. Because I love people-watching and I knew it’s gonna be easier to concentrate if everyone’s behind me.
And then one day, this lady put a squeaking chare RIGHT in front of my nose, my practice. My everything. I’ve been doing so good. It was almost the end of the retreat. And suddenly this wave of thoughts of this Madame and her chair took over my mind.
And so I observed them as I was supposed to. And then I thought- No I will ask her to move, when we’re done. And so I observed the thought. Squeak. I can’t do this! Use the sound. I hear, I hear, I hear. Squeak. I will throw that chair out. Thinking, thinking, thinking.
And I never had the balls to do anything about it. I tried my best to use the sound and thoughts to benefit my practice. It was so hard.
On the very last day of silence, our teacher invited everyone who was keen to come up front and talk about their experience. All the volunteers talked more or less about the same thing. Same difficulties, doubts, joy and relief.
It was one of the worst day of the retreat. I enjoyed the silence very much. And all of the sudden all these stories started again the endless chatter in my head. I was not able to fall asleep that night.
Then my Madam with the squeaking chair took over the stage to share her story. She’s an ex-workaholic from the Netherlands. Ruined her health with work. Had a hip operation and therefore really needed that chair in order to continue her practice.
Needless to say- I was relieved I didn’t tell her off.
I wish I could say, I took away so much from this retreat. That I meditated every day since then. That I never ever made quick judgements of people again. That I now take time to think things through rather than react to whatever life throws at me.
But unfortunately one week of silence is not a quick fix I hoped for. And as much as I want to go to a silent retreat again, I know it will have a minimal impact on my day-to-day life.
It was an amazing experience and an opportunity to see the benefits of mediation myself. But a retreat didn’t inspire me to make it my daily habit. And making it a habit is what really counts. Even if just for five minutes a day. Continuous effort every day. A little bit better.