A week in silence, my experience.

August 2019, Norway.  

Silent retreat

 

The program:

Seven days with no contact with other people, not even eye contact, no mobile, no reading, no internet or TV, not even writing, seven hours or so meditation each day, sitting (45 min session) and very slow mindful-walking (half hour sessions) alternating sitting/walking (mostly sitting) throughout the day. Day started at 05.30 am, and ended 10.00 pm. Silent breakfast, silent lunch and silent dinner. Breaks with silent sitting around, or walking slow, or resting in the bedroom. Two hours of yoga each day, one in the morning and one in the evening. Half hour lecture/guided meditation from the teachers each evening, answering the questions we wrote on small pieces of paper throughout the day and week. These sessions became the highlight of the day for many of us, especially towards the end. The bunch with pieces of paper grew and grew for each day towards the end. No doubt our minds were being busy, and it is amazing how you discover how busy your mind is after a few days in total silence. 

Why. Going on a weeklong silent retreat? If someone had ever told my younger self that I was going to become a yogateacher one day, or help other people find inner peace, I would have looked at them in disbelief. The very restless young me would not have believed you. Saying that though, silence, meditation, and buddhism had always fascinated me throughout my life, and I have had had some amazing alone-time in silence moments when younger, and also through my mindfulness/zen coaching diploma-modules (2011) where we had many silent half-days, which was much needed. Was interesting to then discover that i didn`t have to feel responsible for talking to everyone, for some reason i had felt responsible through life for making everyone feel comfortable, even strangers, because communication comes natural to me, but those silent moments made it clear to me that i had been exhausting myself by giving out too much of my energy socially, and me being a strange mix of introvert/extrovert, and really needing a lot of alone time, but seven days total-silent retreat was something else, I had not experienced this kind of overwhelming silence before. So here`s me thinking I knew what I was getting myself in for choosing the seven day- meditation instead of the three day- meditation, because I had some experience, I thought …

I don`t know where to begin to write about this kind of experience, because there are no suitable words to describe all those different moments. Could say it was almost like being reborn, and all the suffering and insights it takes to be reborn? But of course, this is only the beginning.  

The birch tree experience. This huge birch tree outside my bedroom window at the retreat, replaced all the stimuli of modern everyday life. In the beginning I was grateful the tree was there, and that there was wind moving the leaves and the sound of the wind moving the leaves soothing my mind. And the movement of the leaves stimulating my eyes.

The second day. There was not wind so the tree became less exciting and rather boring. Hmm, what to do now? Wishing for a storm just to have some sort of stimuli. But I kind of enjoyed the peace and quiet, and not having to be social, having been craving more and more alone time and peace the last months before the retreat. Meditation-sitting the first day was ok, but not easy, was harder on the second day, and body aching more. We were recommended to sit through the pain, and truth being told the pain was less by the end of the week, it was there, but I had learnt not to let it bother me so much. 

Silent retreat is not a holiday.I soon discovered that meditation on this level is not a holiday, or not even relaxing most of the time. Sometimes the profound silence was rather noisy, the sittings were hard and the slow-walking frustrating. The third night I slept one minute, got up walking around the corridors hoping to meet ghosts, craving stimuli in all forms. The silence was more obvious and "loud" at night.  

I met a dog; On the third day I think it was. I went for a stroll down the road in one of the daily breaks. I met a dog, it made me bubble over with love, I sat down with it and stroked it, it was such a beautiful moment, I was having a connection with a living being and even eye-contact, it felt like a magical, glowing moment. On day four I met two cats, I sat down with them, they were the most beautiful beings ever, those eyes! Everything was so crystal clear and bright and animals made so much sense, they felt so alive, and very much living in the moment, just like us humans on the retreat was meant to be doing, and also trying to do, but humans have busy minds, full of planning and thinking of futures and pasts, we have a lot to learn from animals about living in the moment. At that point, I have never been so grateful for the simple things in life, a great discovery of what is important in life…connections with other living beings.  

When you wish bumble bees would say something; Yes, I am at that point now, 5 days in, having done all these very slowly mindful walks outdoors I really started to feel connected to nature and all its beauty. I saw every drop of water on the small plants on the grass so clearly, tiny drops, their shape and beauty, sparkling. And the sky and the trees, and the wind, and the birdsong. Ahh, the birdsong would be so clear and loud, even from a distance, like I had an amplifier in my head with birdsong. They would soon become one of my meditation objects. It was nice seeing bumble bees in the grass, their wings and their furred bodies. I had a longing that the bumble bees would talk to me… my little silent friends. Funny how the mind works when it is deprived of connection…     

The birch tree againIt was my best friend the first nights/days, but by the end its dark silhouette at night would bring out my darker thoughts. I had been intensely studying the birch for almost a week, keeping my curtains open the whole night so I could see it and be entertained by a living thing, a tree. One of the last nights I got kind of bored with the tree, it’ s dark leaves hanging there without wind or movement. It wouldn’t even turn psychedelic on me no matter how hard I tried to stare at it. Is this what real boredom looks like? The tree that had been my TV for the week had lost my interest, was quite glad to part with the view from the window and my little bedroom that had started to feel more and more like a prison cell by the end of the week. I had had some empty and painful moments in there, peaceful moments too, but it is funny how the pain has more a hold over you. 

Love and compassion. One night the instructor gave us a guided meditation on love and compassion. I was pleased to discover that I am a loving being after all … as on a similar meditation the day before I felt nothing, nothing! thinking; have I got no love inside of me? Anyway, I felt so light and happy after that second “love and compassion meditation” I loved all the living beings in the world, I loved all my fellow meditators. I loved my family like I was going to explode into tears, and my dog. And the whole universe. On the slow walk meditation just after that meditation I wanted to run and dance in the grass, I felt so light, but that would have disturbed all the serious looking slow-walkers and I would have embarrassed myself. So, I didn’t… So, you think it’s all love and roses from then on? nope.

The day after, I had a panic attack after just having been slow walking listening to the wind in the trees, started to feel a bit lost, extremely exhausted, scared and a bit sad, the sleep deprivation didn`t help, but by then i knew how to breathe myself out of the panic and into another slightly more peaceful moment. I managed to think logically about it and managed to observe my inner chaos with a degree of detachment. That was an achievement for me. So, you see, being in silence for many days in a row can be a rollercoaster ride, you never know what is going to happen from moment to moment in your own inner landscape. The learning is to be able to become a vitness within your own mind, to all the fluctuations of the mind. Meditation is not about emptying the mind, but rather to observe with detachment your emotions, sensations and thoughts. Takes time, a week in silence is only the beginning.  

Contrast. In everyday life there are so many other distractions, you don’t have to face what the mind is constantly up to. Many people might think it is weird how some of us voluntarily will go away for a long silence retreat, to go through this.

I am really not sure if I would do a weeklong silent retreat again, three days sounds more doable, even enjoyable. But i do not regret going, it was a life-changing experience on many levels. I spent much of the time at the retreat wanting it to be over and really looking forward for the retreat to reach the end, but for me, giving up was never an option, I had decided to make it through, which I did, barely. I was proud of myself when I had made it through the seven days in total silence.  

What did I learn from this retreat?

I do very much see the point of mindfulness meditation, it is simple, non-religious, always available wherever you go. The meditation-object being the breath, or the body, no mantra, no visualisation, no sound, no god, just yourself in the moment, your body and your breath, and accepting the moment and yourself. I learned to sit through physical pain and mental restlessness, observe and accept. And after pain, comes peace, like after rain comes sunshine, everything comes and goes in cycles. I did have some peaceful meditations; after my worst, almost unbearable long night (third night), which also included a panick attack, the next morning and day after, I suprisingly I had my easiest day of meditation. I had two sittings where I wouldn`t desperately long for the end-bell to ring. I felt peace in my mind, like there were no thoughts. It was all good. I had survived my own mind, for now ...

Opening the floodgates.

The seventh day, the day we were able to talk and share our experiences. After morning-meditation, yoga and breakfast we were now sat in a circle and able to share and talk about our silent week. Over 30 people had been sharing grounds seven days in silence, we were now going to open about our inner journey. It was a magical moment. It was voluntary for us to talk about our experiences, but everybody opened up, and talked. I had spent a lot of my time in the silent week thinking I was struggling more than the others. But in the sharing-circle it came to light that all us had our different struggles, some more than others. First-timers maybe more than those who had been before. Most of the people had been before. And even some of those who had been many times had their struggles this time too. I felt comforted by the words of the others. Amazing stories, about struggles, beauty, bliss, boredom, inner demons and restlessness. This sure is a a deep and amazing way to get to know someone, spend a week with them in silence, then opening up , no smalltalk, just honest, open, raw, tears , laughter, life unfolding, real connections, just the way I like to connect with other people.  

Coming home.  

We were recommended not to drive straight after the retreat, I can really see why. I was grateful that there was a person at the retreat who had slept more than myself and felt more grounded than I did, she had been to the retreat before, and offered to drive my car from the retreat near to my home as she lived near. I drove the last 15 minutes alone to my home, and it was hard, the traffic seemed so very fast after a week in nature and in silence, everything was loud and fast-phased, all sounds much louder than usual. I had slept on average two hours a night at the retreat and was not feeling up for driving. Wasn’t feeling up to much at all. Was great to see my my family again, and I discovered a newfound appreciation for family, animals and nature, and for meditation too. Was hard adapting to everyday life, work and schedule. My mobile phone seemed too bright and fast, It almost made me feel sick to have to think about opening e-mails (took two days to start opening them) and even longer to get back into the race of everyday living (took me almost two weeks) But I am highly sensitive, many will find it easier to adapt back than i did. Meditation is a great thing to get more into, although I will admit that a whole week of intense meditation was a bit too intense for me, at that point.  

One thing i know though, is that my wish of living more naturally, away from noise, traffic and pollution is even stronger now, To be able to wake up, open the gardendoor and sit on the porch in my dressing-gown waking up to birdsong and nature nearby, no traffic or crowds of people anywhere to be seen. 

I recommend silent retreats to everyone who is serious about finding a deeper connection. 

This text was written six days after the retreat) 

The silent-retreat was held at Hadeland in Norway august 2019, arranged by Mindfulness.no.    

Connecting to nature

September 2020. 

 

Connecting with nature when feeling off center, tired and heavy. 

Today i went to my favorite local "peaceful place" with my dog. I have been feeling heavy and slightly fatigued lately, like I am pouring from an empty cup. Having lots of thoughts and worrying a bit about people close to me, people that i care about. But at the same time noticing that i really need to take care of myself to recharge my own batteries. It has been a while ... 

A great way for me to do this is to spend some time alone in nature, far away from people and noise, to reconnect with myself. There is this spot out in a local forest, and everytime i have been there, there is no one around, not today either. When i woke up today, i felt that i really had to do something about this heavy/frustrated feeling. So, at my peacful place in the woods today, placing my bare feet on the earth, in stillness, watching my mind, observing all the thoughts, that heavy feeling, also noticing those related thoughts lingering around for a while, tension in my neck and shoulder, slight pain in my head, trying to embrace and accept the moment, just the way it is ...

This time it took a while, things had been building up ... 

After around 20 minutes in this stilllness, started to feel the heaviness and tension melt away, and a feeling of peace entering my mind, feeling lighter and more awake. Then, around twenty more minutes in stillness, enjoying this lighter, slightly happier feeling, more energy in the body but less activity in the mind. The silence of the woods, the occational birdsong, the sound of the wings of the dragonflies, other sounds from the space around, and the lovely silence inbetween. My breathing and heartbeat slowing down, opening the eyes enjoying the light and the very slight breeze around and in the trees. And how my dog, being really peaceful, mirroring myself. Then walking in the woods with a lighter step, a more peaceful mind, better mood and feeling grateful for the beauty surrounding me.  

It is so easy to forget that we can do something to alter our mood, feelings and thoughts. So easy to get stuck in the heaviness, and stay put. Sometimes the hardest part, is leaving the house :( , but ...  getting outdoors and into nature does really does work wonders.  

Can`t find any peace? can`t get rid of those lingering thoughts and tensions? Try nature, sit down, or stand in silence, embrace all that you are, accept and release, and listen ... YOU are nature!