My Biggest Takeaway From A Four-Day Meditation Retreat

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An alarm beeped next to my ear and I groggily rolled over to turn it off.


I stayed in bed for a bit, trying to focus on the weight of my body on the bed instead of my desire to fall back asleep. Finally, I gathered the strength and stood up.

I was at a meditation retreat. My first meditation retreat.

Prior to the retreat, I was a fickle meditator. Mostly, I did it because people said it had tons of health benefits — like living a longer life and getting less stressed. I heard that it made people happier, but I never really believed it.

On the mornings that I forced myself to meditate, it was mostly so I could check it off of my internal to-do list. Sometimes I felt better after doing it, but I didn’t notice any big shift in my life.

I meditated because it was something to do.

A few months before enrolling in the retreat, I read 10% Happier, a book by Dan Harris about how frequent meditation made him — yup — 10% happier.

He started out a major skeptic, but slowly realized the differences it made in his life. He had less stress, anxiety and worries. He was able to move forward in life with a peacefulness that he never had before.

About halfway through the book, the author goes on a ten-day silent meditation retreat in California. He describes the boredom and frustration and pain from sitting, walking, and living silently for ten days straight. However, the retreat also led him to a major breakthrough. The revelation was so strong that it caused him to weep. He describes the intense inner peace he felt.

After reading that, I was eager to do a meditation retreat myself. I thought that ten days sounded like torture, so I decided to ease into it with a four-day retreat.

A few months later, it was time.

We met on Monday and went over the basics. No cell phones, no computers, no writing utensils — nothing that would distract us from ourselves.

Our teacher encouraged us to look within, and take the meditation seriously in exchange for deep, inner happiness.

The next morning, I woke up at 5:30. I trudged to our meeting place, and sat cross-legged for thirty minutes as our teacher guided us through our first meditation.

From there, we had the rest of the morning to practice on our own. Lunch was the next thing on our agenda — at one o’clock.

The first day was the hardest for me. I tried to sit with myself and silence my thoughts. I was frustrated, bored, and tired. My joints hurt from sitting still for so long. Each minute that passed felt like an eternity, and I was sure that I would go crazy before the week was up.

Our teacher mentioned that it would be unreasonable for a person to go to the gym once and expect to do five hundred pushups right away. He reminded us that we were there to practice and learn, and we would slowly improve in due time.

However, sitting in silence felt like it should be easier than doing five hundred pushups. I wanted to quiet my thoughts, focus on my breath, and drift into a peaceful meditation. When that didn’t happen immediately, I got upset with myself.

Each thought that arose brought along an annoyance and anger. Why couldn’t I do it? Why wasn’t I achieving what I wanted to achieve? Why did I even sign up for this stupid retreat in the first place?

On day three, I met with my teacher and confessed that I was beginning to hate meditating. I dreaded sitting down because not only was it physically uncomfortable, but it brought up a lot of negative self-talk and emotions.

He nodded understandably and posed the following question: If he were to follow me around all day and constantly point out my flaws and insult everything I did, how would I feel?

Well, obviously, I wouldn’t like him and I would try to get him to stop following me around.

He told me the mind is the same. Through my meditation, I was being mean to it. When it didn’t do what I wanted, I insulted it. I was frustrated and demanding, which caused it to resist.

Instead, he suggested I approach it with kindness and compassion. He told me to say to my mind, “You can do whatever you want. I am only here to observe you. I will love and accept you no matter what.”

I tried it immediately, and my mind went blank.

My eyes popped open and I looked at him with excitement. “It worked!” I exclaimed. “I silenced my mind.”

He nodded, thoughtfully, and, “Of course. Because when you approach things with compassion and kindness, you will achieve far more than when you approach things with anger and contempt.”

He was speaking beyond my experience with meditation. And he was right.

This conversation with him changed everything for me. It changed the way I view myself, my friends, my family — and every situation.

It taught me to greet everyone, including and especially yourself, with kindness, compassion, and love. It is the gift of life.

Life is hard. We all have our struggles. But getting angry or annoyed is only going to make it worse. Take a look at the pain, accept it, and then say “I love you, no matter what.” It will change everything.

I cannot control what happens to me in life, but I can always control how I respond. I can choose to get angry and frustrated when things don’t go exactly the way I’d like. Or I can choose to greet every situation with love and acceptance.

And even if that attitude shift doesn’t solve my problems like it did on the meditation retreat, at least I am putting more love and kindness into the world. And that is something I am more than happy to contribute.

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