As the result of a slowly developing practice of mediation and mindfulness, I signed up for my first ever meditation retreat in 2018. Over the course of three blogs, I would like to share with you my journey: Silent Meditation Retreat (Before, During, After).
Silent Meditation Retreat: BEFORE
As a result of my mother's influence, I have been intrigued by meditation most of my life. I can remember being quite young and reading her book on 'Self Hypnosis' - laying in my room practicing for hours. Throughout my life, my interest in self-hypnosis, meditation, and mindfulness has ebbed and flowed. Several years ago, I stumbled upon a meditation website called Calm that sparked my interest in creating a habit of daily meditation. As a result of experiencing personal benefits from a consistent meditation practice, I began teaching more mindfulness/meditation techniques to the clients who came into my office. Wanting to further increase my professional skills (and for personal growth), I completed an 8 week online course on Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). One of the closing assignments from the course was to create a plan of how I would continue a practice of meditation/mindfulness. From this, I made a commitment to attend my first silent meditation retreat in April 2018. Over the course of the next three blogs, I would like to share with you my journey: Silent Meditation Retreat: Before, During & After.
I have no idea what I have signed myself up for!
In April 2018, I will be attending a 6-day silent mediation retreat exploring anapanasati at Cloud Mountain. To be completely honest, I chose this length of retreat, this topic to explore and this retreat center based solely on the fact that it coincides EXACTLY with an already planned vacation weekend. I fully believe that the "universe is unfolding as it should" (Desiderata 1927), so as soon as I came upon it, I knew this was my retreat. I've read everything I can on the Cloud Mountain website and from what I can gather, I will literally be meditating from sun up to sun down, and that there will be no communication with other retreatants (known as Noble Silence). This includes NOT making eye contact with people!
I quickly blocked off my schedule and made travel arrangements. Interestingly, I was cautious to tell people... What would they say? Would they think I was weird? When I did share about my upcoming adventure, I received very mixed reactions. Some people were unable to understand why I would do this - why would anyone separate from technology and people for six days to be by themselves? .... Unfortunately, for a long time, I didn't have a good answer. Other people were intrigued, stating they too were interested in meditation and had thought about a retreat. My husband and my best friend, who are both keenly aware of my tendency towards being "overly social," were pretty convinced that I will murder someone as a result of six days in silence. I have to admit, I am pretty nervous!
As I mentioned, many people have asked, "Why would you do such a thing?" I didn’t have a good answer until one day, I was listening to the audio book The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. In the book, she talks about how "attitude doesn’t translate to a practice." She used the example of having a "yoga attitude" – mindfulness, breath, connection between mind body spirit; however, that doesn't translate to her ever practicing yoga. That’s when it dawned on me, I have always had a meditation mindset – present focus, nonjudgmental, mindfulness - yet I struggle with cultivating and sustain a practice of meditation. This retreat is a chance for me to practice this attitude that is part of who I am.
In the months leading up to the retreat, I found myself going through phases...
Stage 1 (Excitement): At first I was excited and 100% gung-ho! I wanted to "train" for the experience as if I were a runner training for a marathon. My plan was to build up my meditation time incrementally so that I would be "prepared" for the retreat. At some point, it occurred to me that this "training" was about perfectionism.
Stage 2 (Concern): Next, overwhelm, concern and a general feeling of "What the hell did I get myself into?" came into play. I started to doubt my ability to even do this (more perfectionism creeping in).
Stage 3 (Acceptance): After recognizing worry and doubt creeping in, I decided to let go of the pressure I was placing on myself and the retreat. This third stage is a place of acceptance. I am entering these 6 days without expectation of my experience or my performance. With acceptance comes a sense of calm. Interesting that as I've gotten closer the mindfulness retreat, I myself have become more mindful, in the moment and willing to accept the six days for whatever they will be. With this acceptance, I have allowed the excitement to return.
Eeeek, I leave in just a few short days! I cannot wait to experience whatever lies ahead... Stay tuned!
Rachel Baker is a Spokane, Washington-based psychotherapist, helping driven and successful people who are overwhelmed and anxious create peace and purpose. Her goal is to connect individual client strengths and experiences with proven therapeutic approaches that increase skill and insight in order to create a life filled with peace and purpose. If you are interested in individual therapy to address worry, overwhelm or anxiety, please call: (509) 999-8696 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a free 15-minutes consultation.