Are Silent Meditation Retreats For You? 14 Tips To Help You Decide
Are you tired of your daily working routine? Or feeling lost? Do you want to spend some time within yourself and cleanse your mind? Can you live one week without the luxuries of a soft bed, telephone, Wi-Fi, cigarettes or your partner? Are you suffering from insomnia and anxiety? Are you strongly motivated to do something offbeat in order to feel better? Would you face adverse difficulties and not give up? Could it be that you are thinking about a silent meditation retreat?!
Because that's what I did.
I quit my job, had no idea where to go, what to do... But I knew that I was necessitated to escape from my monotonous job, lifeless routine and depressing place. I felt certain that it was a perfect time to try something different!
So after 2 weeks I landed in Thailand. My mind was set for a meditation therefore I couldn't imagine myself arriving in a busy chaotic city – Bangkok. I picked the Dipabhavan Meditation Retreat in Koh Samui. As soon as I got there, I realized that I made a wise decision. Next morning I woke up to the sound of waves and a breathtaking view, facing straight out towards the crystal clear water of Gulf of Thailand. I had a fresh coconut for my first breakfast and then I followed the given instructions from the meditation retreat organisers.
I reached the pickup point and waited eagerly. When a car arrived, a group of strangers was nervously waiting to see where they will be taken. We were going right up a steep asscent through the jungle, the beautiful sandy beaches sat distantly below us. When we reached our destination, one by one particapants were asked to complete an interview, read the rules and prepare all the belongings to stow away.
Soon after we had several hours to settle down until the opening ceremony begins. I was astonished when I saw the accommodation for women: 2 large rooms with about 40 beds. All that is supplied is merely a bamboo mattress, thin blanket, mosquito net and a wooden (!!!) pillow! How is it possible to rest and sleep well on a wooden pillow?? The realisation that this is going to be a real challenge had sunken in.
After the opening ceremony, the vow of silence had begun. Everybody went to sleep quietly, anticipating the next morning. Waiting for it was trying and I was anxious on top of that. What will follow? How will I handle it? Will it be painful and boring because I won't succeed in concentration? And eventually how am I going to cope with hunger? Because there is strictly no food between 11:30 am to 7 am the following day!!!
The grueling new challenging routine had started:
- 4:30 am - wake up
- 5:00 am – morning reading, sitting meditation and yoga
- 7:30 am – breakfast
- 9:30 am - Dhamma talk
- 10:30 – walking and sitting meditation
- 11:30 am – lunch
- 2:00 pm – Dhamma talk
- 3:00 pm – walking and sitting meditation
- 4:30 pm – chanting & loving kindness meditation
- 5:30 pm – tea
- 7:30 pm – sitting and group walking meditation
- 9:00 pm – bedtime
First two days were by far the most difficult. Sittng cross-legged on the floor in a large hall, surrounded by strangers, sweating, suffering from back and dead leg pain. Trying to meditate but distracted by brief glances of the clock and calculating how long there is to go.
Everyone in the meditation hall had their own spot to meditate, so in the mornings I could see more and more gaps appearing between people. What was happening? Why they are leaving and bail out so quickly?! This mystery was agrivating me. So the second morning when I saw my bed neighbour crying (I heard her crying the previous night as well) and packing after the breakfast I can confess, I broke my silence vow to find out why she was leaving because I honestly thought that something bad happened.
I was surprised when I discovered the reason. She said it was too difficult, her whole body was in agony, she couldn't sleep and it is just a waste of time. She would rather go to the beach and enjoy the life instead of suffering here for no reason. I realised that not everyone is ready for this. Maybe it sounds awesome: “I am going to attend a meditation retreat”, but people don't realise the hardships that one must endure.
You are NOT ready for Silent Meditation Retreat if:
1. You are not completely certain that you can handle the pain: the back pain as you sit, your legs falling asleep and your brain is crying for release. You are working both with your mind and body. Fatigue, pain, demoralization become frequent and you feel exhausted.
2. You are very sensitive and not mentally balanced. At some point, you will go through all your life, childhood, pain suffered in the past, people who hurt you, decisions you made, the life path you pursued. It might not be so easy. On day three, during the evening meditation I started crying and I couldn't stop. So many memories and feelings overcame me and I didn't know how to control it.
3. You are not ready for minimalistic conditions. Wooden bed and pillow, a room with 20 more women, cold showers, no phone and Wi-Fi, even reading books is prohibited. All you need to do is hang out with your new best friend – mind.
4. You can't follow these regulations: wake up at 4.30 am, not eat between midday to next morning. Breakfast and lunch are vegetarian! Early starts (when a bell rings at 4.30am, the last thing you want to do is walk through the jungle in pitch black to the meditation hall up the hill). I repeatedly fell asleep during morning sessions, always felt very drained.
5. You are afraid of living in a jungle with all its creatures. During my 7 day retreat, I saw lots of huge spiders, a snake, a scorpion and big frogs. Sometimes dangerous bugs were crawling on the meditation hall floor while you had to sit still and concenrate on your mindfulness. And you have to take a vow not to kill any insects.
6. If you think that this might be a waste of time and you would rather have a fresh coconut on the beach. Many participants left for this reason.
7. If you think that this 7 or 10 day retreat will change your life. Truth be told, it didn't change my life like many people would think, a miracle didn't befall.
You SHOULD attend Silent Meditation Retreat because:
1. By being completely isolated for 7 or 10 days, you get a chance to know yourself. There is no way to escape, there is no one to talk to, no radio nor television to watch, no book to read, nothing to write, 0 stimulus. You are forced to face yourself, to look deep inside and observe your mind. A chance like this rarely occurs in ordinary daily life.
2. With training provided and the talks given, you learn the techniques of mindfulness with breathing. It is very useful for your future practice by yourself.
3. Learn to be “here and now” in this present moment. By being totally aware of here, now, you let go the worries of the past and anxieties of the future.
4. Partial fasting is not so difficult and it helps to concentrate on your meditation. I had some secret muesli bars hidden in my bag but never needed them. And the food was amazing! I was enjoying every single dish, especially traditional Thai desserts. Also you learn to more deeply appreciate the food you eat and even the water you sip.
5. You notice that we are very reliant on technology and other creature comforts but realise that we can live perfectly fine with much much less! You wish for limited use of tecnologies, less talking and to slow down.
6. It is a very important lesson that the assumptions that we make and our reactions to them complicates our lives. I spent one week surrounded by strangers taking a course with me, had some time to look at them, to analyse their behaviour and it is amazing how you start creating lives for them in your mind! I started imagining who they are, where they are from and what their background is. It was an incredible experience because at the end when we had a chance to talk, I realised that I couldn't of been more wrong due to my bad assumptions. The ones who seemed so unfriendly, arrogant, and boring appeared to be the funniest, interesting, smart and amazing people!
7. It is a deeply personal experience that’s different for everybody; the truth is, there’s no way to know exactly what will happen once you’re alone with yourself. Isn't it thrilling and mind-blowing??
Like I mentioned before, it didn't change my life. However I could say I learnt more about myself, my abilities, feelings and emotions, my strengths and weaknesses. It is not effortless to start meditation but once you are on the right path, it becomes easier and easier every day. I managed to add 10 minutes of meditation to my daily routine and the results are amazing. I am still lost and still not sure what should I do in my life, but what's so wrong with that? It helps me cope with daily life situations, I became more relaxed, calm, peaceful and understanding.
Would I do a course again? Beyond any doubt!
I recommend Dipabhavan Meditation retreat in Koh Samui island for the beginners and those who are 100% confident that are ready for this mind confrontation. The course is free, although you are encouraged to give a donation at the end if you desire.
By Dovile Eitutyte