’What do you mean you can’t talk for 6 hours?!’ Was the question I was incredulously asked by my lovely wife when I recently had the opportunity to go to a silent meditation retreat.
As recent and revolutionary change I have written in a few posts about my new found adoption of daily mindful mediation and the benefits it brings, simply by slowing things down and enabling greater focus, without judgment, and with kindness, on what is present in the breath, the body, the mind and all around us; in that very moment. Whilst it is heavily linked to, and inspired by, Buddhist practice mindful meditation is free of the religious doctrine of the religion itself; if that is not something of interest to you.
After spending a number of months working with the Headspace app, which I would highly recommend, I wanted to take my practise further. I had noticed the profound benefits of what I can only describe as a calmer and kinder mind - kinder to me and kinder to others.
Mindfullness was starting to help me to feel a real sense of being lifted out of the the mire of perceiving to have no control of my depressive thoughts, and my thoughts about my depressive thoughts; and the emotional bow waves that they used to bring.
So, I sought out a guy called Ed Halliwell. Ed is a well known author and teacher in the area of Mindful Meditation. Amongst other things, he teaches a course in Meditation Based Stress Reduction. Ed has an interesting back story, in that he used to be the Deputy Editor of FHM Magazine around 20 year ago and suffered a tumultuous time with mental ill-health before he discovered mindfulness. Ed is an unassuming, inspiring guy. He has contributed to the body of evidence that means mindful meditation is considered a core phsychological treatment for issues of mental ill-health. Rather than only being regarded as an ‘alternative’ therapy. He has also contributed to work done by the Government Department for Education on the benefits of including ‘Growth Mindset’ in the national curriculum - something my son has started doing at the age of 5.
As part of the MBSR course above, I was invited to a silent retreat on a Sunday afternoon late in October.
First off, I was late by around 40 minutes, because I had misread the welcome email. So, I stood outside the room wondering whether to turn around and go home. But I had driven 70 miles to get there! Then I realised the 20 or so people in the room were all sitting in a circle with their eyes closed practising mindful meditation. This provided a unique opportunity for me to sneak in at the back, sit on my pillow and just join in. Amazing. Much to their surprise when they opened their eyes!
The retreat itself was a little different to anything I had previosuly experienced as a first timer. Normally when I arrive in a room full of strangers I have some degree of anxiety knowing that I have to announce my arrival and then introduce myself. I have never been good at sidling up to strangers at ‘networkng events’. In this case I could just blend in. No one was talking to anyone. It was so refreshing in a non-anti-social way. I could just be, just be me. In my own way, without some of the pressure we normally feel.
There was mixture of mindful movement, mindfull walking, minfdul coffee drinking and mindful eating. Sound a bit weird? Perhaps.
Here’s the thing, we go through life at speed and on auto-pilot and can often miss the marvel and the beauty of what is right there in front of us. The things we would otherwise be hugely grateful for. In one reading there was an idea about looking at the moon like it was the first and last time we would see it. How differently would we behold its mystic amazement if that were the case. Think about applying this to other things we take for granted. Sounds a bit strange? I can tell you it was great. I have started to look at things very differently. Started to be much more grateful. This in turn is changing my mindset to appreciate more who and what I have in my life.
As the day progressed I started to feel the benefits of what we were doing. I was superbly relaxed. At one point, during mindful walking, I was walking around outside the building and entered a nearby cemetery. During the walk I had the most inspiring feelings about the amazement of my life, the gratitude I felt for it. It is difficult to put into words but it just felt great.
The most fundamental idea in mindful meditation is to be present. In the moment. This is brilliantly empowering because regardless of what has come to pass, being present means you can simply accept and move forward. Being present means that you become a lot less worried about the future - because this is not something that can be really controlled by us. Only the moment we are in now can be controlled. Of course then these ‘now moments’ build our future and build our past. This makes the decisions I make in the present an opportunity to chart the course for my future. Step by step. Moment by moment.
At the end of the day on this retreat, Ed asked us to turn to the person next to us and start to talk. He cautioned that we might find it hard. And he was right. It didn’t come that easy. When it did though, and we joined a couple of others, the conversation ignited with a passion for what we were all learning. How we all valued the present moment more than ever. How practising meditation and learning to be more present had had a profound positive impact on each one of us - in different ways.
So whilst my wife said it would be her idea of hell (the not-talking part) I have to say I really enjoyed it.
Keep well everyone,