Mindfulness Retreat: the day of silence!
I mentioned in my last blog post that through my day job some dots have recently joined in terms of linking my interests outside of work to my job and one example of this is that I’ve joined my firm’s Mindfulness Network, which for anyone that knows me or reads my blogs will know that’s right up my street!
The opportunity arose through work to attend an all-day mindfulness retreat in London so I jumped at the chance. An email with more information came through a week or so before the retreat and it stated that it would be a silent retreat. This was very amusing to both myself and my friends and family as no one, including me, could imagine me being quiet for an entire day.
I’d spent the weekend at home with my parents in Essex so commuted into London on the Monday morning. I’d had a lovely weekend seeing friends and family and felt really chilled out which was a good start… until I reached London that is. I lived in London for several years and whilst I have some amazing memories, I also have some memories of London which remind me of some times in my twenties which weren’t so great. I stopped off to go to the loo at Liverpool Street station and that place holds some unhappy memories of when I used to commute in whilst studying in London when I was having quite a tough time. Even just being on the tubes in rush hour took me back to my ‘old life’ which was so different from my life now and it brought up quite a few uncomfortable feelings for me which was odd and not expected at all. So I began the day feeling slightly on edge but all that changed.
The course was run by a lady called Tessa Watts who was fantastic. She explained that the day would be in silence (including lunch) and talked us through practicalities of the day. Her voice was calming yet authoritative and immediately commanded the attention of the group (about 18 of us). Our first meditation felt a little uncomfortable for me which I often find towards the beginning of a mediation session. It takes my mind a while for my thoughts to slow down. A way to describe it perhaps is that when I first begin meditation it’s like my thoughts are like my breath when I’ve been doing exercise – quite fast and frantic – but after a few minutes they are more steady and I’m able to observe them calmly and I soon got into that ‘groove’ after the first meditation.
Over the course of the day we did walking meditations, a body scan (if you’re unsure what that is, have a look here, a kindness meditation and some visualisation.
Normally I meditate for 10 minutes at a time and occasionally longer so a whole day was new for me. I was quite intrigued how lunchtime would pan out since we all had to stay silent. In a way it was a relief as I felt so calm and relaxed by lunchtime that actually having to then make conversation with people I didn’t know would have been effort I wasn’t feeling like making. There were some fleeting moments where I did feel like I was going to giggle because it felt so odd to be queuing up for sandwiches in total silence (almost like we were zombies or something) and then sitting down to eat in total silence. I felt worried I would be eating too loudly and everyone would hear my clicky jaw as I munched on the crusty baguette! Putting those silly worries aside, the lunch break was really interesting. It made me realise that I never ever just eat. I either eat whilst talking, whilst working, whilst watching TV or basically whilst doing anything other than simply concentrating on the task in hand. I chewed my food more thoroughly than I probably ever have!
Of course there were moments in the day when I thought about mundane things like what will I do that evening, what have I got on the next day but actually those types of thoughts were few and far between. I was able to spend a day alone with my thoughts. Meditation doesn’t stop the thoughts but allows you to observe them from a still and non judgemental place. I even found ideas popping into my head which probably would never have the chance to surface as my thoughts are so often about the stresses and practicalities of daily life. It sounds extremely corny but I felt like I was spending the day with my true self. Not the ‘work’ or ‘professional’ version of myself but my true self (some may call this your inner self or higher self).
When Tessa rung the bell for the final time and said we could speak to each other about how we experienced the day a little voice in my head was saying ‘noooooooo’ – much to my surprise I was so content and still. I didn’t actually want to talk. I could have easily floated back home and stayed silent for the rest of the day.
Having a break from technology, from work, from people and from my own constant chatter was blissful and I really felt as though I would love to do more retreats so it’s something I’ll look into. I can imagine that if you’re someone who bottles up emotions or keeps frantically busy in order to drown out your true thoughts it could be challenging to sit with your thoughts all day, but that’s probably even more reason to give meditation a go. I was intrigued by how the day would be and what I’d get out of it (and if I could physically stay quiet all day) and I was so pleasantly surprised how much I got out of it.
I’ve decided that I am going to try to meditate for longer periods of time as that’s when I feel the most benefit. I’ve been far more dedicated to my meditation practice over recent months and this retreat really solidified my love for meditation. I’ve noticed my sleep has improved lately too so I think that could be down to meditation. There are times when I’m really frantic and stressed out and sitting down to meditate can feel like a waste of time but those are the times it’s so needed. It allows me to ground myself and connect to myself and I am looking forward to finding out more about mindfulness and meditation as feel I’ve been scratching the surface over the last couple of years and actually I could get even more out of it.
Bring on the next retreat!