What I learned on my 7-day silent meditation retreat

I am back from a 7-day meditation retreat outside Baltimore. This retreat, and the meditation retreat I did in the spring have been two of the richest experiences I’ve had, and really helped to deepen my practice.

The best way I can describe it is that it was like hitting the reset button and restoring myself to factory settings. Here are 23 insights I gained from being in silence for two weeks.

1. If you are present, you can hear a turtle walking in the woods. Our daily schedule consisted of waking at 6:30, sitting meditation for 45 minutes, followed by walking meditation for 45 minutes, then sitting, walking, sitting, walking, all day. Punctuated by meals, which constitute the big excitement of the day. On one of my walks, I heard rustling in the woods about 20 feet away. I looked over to see a giant tortoise walking slowly. When I stopped, it stopped, and it blended right in with the landscape so much so that I had to squint to make sure it really was a tortoise and my mind wasn’t playing tricks on me. But, undeniably, I had heard it walking.

2. The present moment is all that really exists. We spend so much of our time fretting and worrying about the past or the future, and we miss what's right here. Or, we keep looking forward to some future time when we'll have what we want and be happy. Soon, minutes, weeks, decades have passed. Be here now. In this moment, there is happiness. Don't miss it.

3. Resistance is suffering. When resistance ends, suffering ends. When you accept things exactly as they are instead of resisting, peace arises. This wisdom came from one of our delightful teachers, Eric Kolvig. He created a project called the Acceptance Project, whereby he practices accepting anything and everything that arises. Traffic jam? Ok. Fear of what lies ahead? Say yes to that too.

4. It's okay to just be and not do. In fact, it's very, very nice. Forget about needing anyone's agreement or approval. Give yourself permission to simply be. I've spent so much of my life doing. Working like crazy, traveling the world like a madwomen, pursuing all sorts of activities. On this retreat, I had an experience of just being, no doing, and it was wonderful.

5. There's no joy in seeking approval. Like I said above, forget about always trying to please people and needing anyone’s approval. Seek your own approval. If you’re good enough for your own standards, that’s all you need.

6. Who knew? It's called a meditation practice because you practice it. What a difference a steady, regular practice makes. It’s been 47 days since the retreat ended, and I have only missed one day of meditation. I have been meditating for about six years, and have never sat this many days in a row before. Stuff came up, and there were many days when it got pushed aside. Since the retreat I have made it one of the things I just do, like brushing my teeth. The benefits are subtle yet extraordinary. I’m less reactive, more at ease around people, more comfortable with the discomfort of major transition.

7. Everything you need to know, you already know, deep inside. Sometimes you gotta give up the struggle and the striving and the seeking and the figuring out and just look at what's true, what's right there, in your heart, and you'll know what to do. Allow what really is, what wants to emerge, to come to the surface and exist. Insights arise naturally. I didn’t really believe that when I first heard it from one of the teachers, Jonathan Foust, on the retreat. But it’s true. Let yourself get quiet inside and let your unique truth emerge. Listen to your intuition. Everyone has it. Trust. Trust your gut. Have the courage to follow your heart. Fear and doubt will come up and rear their ugly heads. That's okay. (See #3). The mind will try to weigh the pros and cons as you try to make a decision, but the heart and body know.

8. Confusion is our teacher. Don't push it away. Many times I’ve felt confused about a particular decision or my path in life. This is fine. It is an opportunity to pause and investigate what’s really true, to feel what your body is trying to tell you. With patience and quiet reflection, sweet clarity does arise.

9. Silence is golden. We say so much stuff all the time, much of it unnecessary and sometimes unkind, just to fill the void. There is so much peace and relaxation in silence.

10. It is profoundly rejuvenating to take a week to rest the senses. Our senses are constantly overstimulated, especially for people like me, who are highly sensitive people (HSPs). No technology, no talking, no eye contact, no sirens. No multi-tasking. It’s good to take some down time every day and rest the senses, but the benefit of a full week is indescribable. I came back home more present, relaxed, and able to actually focus my full attention on one thing at a time.

When my husband and I left the retreat and drove home on I-95, I reached over to rest my hand on the back of his neck, as I often do in the car. He was completely startled. “I thought there was a truck on my neck!,” he exclaimed as he glanced in all directions to regain control of his surroundings. Interstate traffic on a Friday afternoon. Turns out neither one of us were accustomed to that much stimulation after a week in silence.

11. Often we are overwhelmed, and mostly it is by choice. I really came to understand how we choose what we fill our time with, and if we're overwhelmed, that's often a result of our choices. And even when it's really not, we can still choose how we'll react to it.
mindful image_0

12. It's not your life circumstances that determine your happiness. It's how your relate to them. (See #3).

13. Your beautiful, radiant, loving self is always there. The rest is just a weather system. Weather comes and goes. Storms, sunshine, rain, hail, mist, cold, heat, sticky humidity. Just like your emotions come and go. When you are in the middle of a stormy weather system, remember: this too shall pass. Your highest self will emerge from behind the clouds again.

14. We really are all interconnected. I've known this intellectually for a while, but I really got it on the last day of the retreat. It was sometime during the closing ceremony when the kitchen staff, who had been cooking for us all week, were invited into the meditation hall so we could express our gratitude. (Yes, talking is re-introduced during the closing ceremony). The reality of just how interdependent we are hit full force: our retreat experience would not have been possible without the many hands who grew and prepared our food. This was just one tiny indication of the vast web of interconnectedness we live in.

15. We are social creatures, and community is important. Although all of the retreatants did not look at or talk to one another all week, I felt profoundly connected to everyone there. The connection was somehow enhanced by the lack of interaction. We had been through a similar experience, each of us exerting effort in our practice, each dealing with his or her own delights and demons during the week. What arose by the end of the week was pure love and connection among people in a community. My heart opened with loving joy to every being in the room, even those who had annoyed me during the week with their farting and noisy eating.

16. Grief, sadness, and emotional pain are not so different from joy, open-heartedness, compassion, and generosity. They all make the heart quiver. It's the same heart that feels all of this. Without love, there is no grief. Our job is to feel all of those emotions fully and deeply.

17. There's no better gift to give someone than to be fully present. This is the best gift my husband gave me after we finished the retreat, and I think the best gift I gave him. We went back to Brookside Gardens, where we got married last year, and walked among the azaleas, our senses heightened to the lovely fragrances. We talked and shared for hours. No cell phones, no distractions, just completely present with each other. What a gift. How can we bring that quality of presence to our daily lives, in the absence of a silent meditation retreat to set the stage?

orchid painting edited again

18. Don't wait until you have time to go on retreat (or to do whatever is important to you). The busier you are and the more you think you don't have time to get away and meditate for 7 days, the more you need to hop to it. Similarly, the busier our days, the more we need our daily practice at home.

19. Everything can be a meditation. On the retreats, we did sitting and walking meditation. Lately, I've been doing washing-dishes-meditation, bike riding meditation, and chopping-vegetables-from-the-garden meditation. Whatever you do, be fully present in the moment and savor it. Mindfulness makes doing the dishes much more enjoyable. There's nowhere else but here, and now.

20. To really feel well and radiantly alive, we need to tend to our spirit, in whatever way makes sense to us. This is a core component of total health. You can eat all the broccoli in the world and exercise everyday, but to enjoy vibrant health, you must nourish your spirit. Set aside some time to connect with your own truth and with what makes your heart soar and your soul feel expansive.

21. If you can be fully present when you are walking (or driving or doing other mundane tasks), you can be present for all the other things in life. The 45-minute periods of walking meditation punctuated between the 45-minute periods of sitting meditation are just as important as the sits. One is not a vehicle to get to the other. It may seem like you are on your way to get somewhere else, but you are actually right here. Be present for all of it, even when it appears that you're travelling somewhere. What a *radical* shift.

22. Gratitude is where it's at. When we feel gratitude for what we have, rather than upset about what we don't have, all is well. Today, I am so grateful to have an amazing husband to love who also loves me exquisitely. I am grateful for my courage to follow my heart, change careers, and pursue my purpose in life. I am grateful to be on this spiritual path, growing, stumbling, and having moments of awakening. I also get to hear turtles walking. I’m profoundly grateful for my meditation community, IMCW, as well as the wisdom and belly-hurting humor of its teachers. I'm grateful to be making space in life for what's truly important to me, and to be so much clearer about what that it. (Because we all have enough time for what's really important to us.)

23. Speak your truth. Those who get it will stick around.

So whether you are new to meditation or an experienced meditator, I highly recommend making time to get away on retreat, even for one day. It is a truly restorative experience. My mindfulness practice has transformed my life and I love using mindfulness-based coaching with my clients to help them bring gentle awareness to the body, mind, and emotions around food and help them achieve their health goals.

If you'd like to learn more about mindfulness and meditation, contact me and ask for a free copy of my Mindfulness Resource Guide. It has information on retreat centers, how to meditate, guided audio meditations, CDs, and books.

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