I did a 10 day (almost silent) meditation retreat in India
BLOG BY ESTEBAN ALVARES
Truth's business development manager shares his story
So, why did I embark on a 10-day silent meditation?
I was stuck in a bit of a rut. Get up go to work, coffee, meals, gym, see friends and repeat. Weeks and months flashed by and I felt as if life was just passing me by; I felt that life was just happening rather than me living life.
I have always been somewhat intrigued by the mind. I had listened to podcasts by Tim Ferris and other successful entrepreneurs, who talked of their experiences after a similar style of retreat. As people, they seemed sure of themselves and their abilities without coming across as disingenuous.I had a few things I wanted to figure out and get clarity on in my own life. I was halfway through a 4-month travel adventure and it just organically eventuated.
I guess I just wanted to have a greater understanding of why I saw the world the way I did and how I could change my attitude/outlook to get the most out of life.
What did a standard day look like?
First and foremost, I handed in all my belongings including my phone to be locked away for 10 days.
We had one hour a day to discuss the topics we had learnt, but aside from that, I remained completely silent for the 10 days. Silence while eating and silence in the dorms too. I shared a dorm with two others for 10 days and did not know either of their names the whole time!
6 am:Rise and shine early with a gong being rung outside your door, surprisingly much nicer than an alarm clock
7:30-9 am: Breakfast
9-12 pm:Lectures on Buddhist principles and meditation and the best way to implement these attitudes and outlooks into our lives
12-2 pm: Lunch
2-3 pm: the sole hour of the day in which we are able to discuss our learning and meditative experiences
3-6 pm: Lectures
** For the last two days, there was no lecture or discussion hour. Just meditation and meal times. **
So, what did I learn?
Noticing how much we project-onto interactions and people. Making assumptions. We forget the fact that the way view the world is our own subjective experience, that everyone sees things differently to us. That our outlook is not objective reality, just our ownopinions and perceptions.
Not that material items don’t bring us happiness or pleasure; it is just the fact that none of it is lasting. The new Iphone X that you bought will in a couple years become the Old iphone X. The joy that you experienced when you first bought the phone will dissipate and you will not be 100% happy until your new one arrives. It is an endless cycle of putting your happiness into something that is destined not to last and being disappointed when this happens. I learnt not to place my lasting happiness into things external to me.
Growing up in London, people have the tendency to be competitive in pursuing their career. The way in which I grew up was very much based upon the attitude of look out for yourself, because no one else is going to do it for you. While dedicating your focus on your progression has its positives, there are unnoticed negatives. We learnt that if you are so wrapped up in yourself, any minor annoyances like missing your train, or someone pushing in front of you in a queue, might be enough to ruin your entire day. When you become more selfless and concern yourself more with the happiness of loved ones and those around you, you’ll take inconveniences less personally and be happier for it. It is about finding the right balance between caring for yourself and others.
#4 Controlling Emotions
We are all human and of course we will experience feelings like anger, sadness and irritation, but when we want to solve a problem, those emotions are not necessary. When you feel angry, you are not angry, you are just thinking angrily, when the anger subsides it is because your mind is no longer thinking about angry thoughts. Like everyone I struggle with certain emotions, but understanding that they are useless in the problem-solving process stops them from arising as often.
The ability to stop your impulsiveness, to give a little thought to things you say and do throughout the day. To realise that having that 3rdcoffee is probably not worth it even though you might be craving it and spending more money than planned shopping will only bring momentary happiness. Mindfulness is the importance of approaching tasks focused and thoughtfully, without distraction instead of rushing around to simply get it done. The output of my work is always going to be better when I pay attention detail.
#6 Real Listening
Realising that when you are talking you are only repeating things you already know, but when someone else is talking, you have the possibility of learning something new. So now, when someone else is talking, they have the Mic, and I listen intently not just looking for any opportunity to butt in with eagerness or agreement.
#7 Bye Phone
I really realized how draining taking in all the extra information from my phone was. Mindless scrolling or posting of Instagram photos and unimportant posts on Facebook. It all takes energy, concentration, memory and time to digest, is it worth it? No its junk
Interesting things I noticed
When you have a lot of time to think and there are no distractions around whatsoever - from people, gadgets or food it is interesting to notice things that in ordinary life you may never notice.
When reflecting on the retreat with the participants after, we all spoke about how sleep was so difficult as we all had a surprising amount of energy! I personally attribute that to the time without our phones. I also noticed that without distraction, a lot of funny memories popped up from my childhood that I had either forgotten about or had not thought about in a very long time.
Whilst we had this lengthy amount of time alone, we were all given a 'Karma job', as the Buddhist temple is very concerned with the welfare of all life, not just humans. Mine was to get out of bed as early as possible and ensure that all the beetles, spiders and other creepy crawlies that had sought refuge inside during the night were safely put back outside before anyone could step on them. I really appreciated the mindfulness and compassion of this exercise.
On a more morbid note, one of our topics of discussion was on death, followed by a meditation devoted to it. It was strange, but quite humbling. No matter how important you think the problems in your life are, or how seriously you take yourself, one day; and that is the only thing guaranteed to us all, we will pass on. I guess it put things into perspective!
On that note, it was thought-provoking watching the Buddhist teachers on the grounds.I noticed how much happier they were with so much less.Most notable was the 80-year-old Tibetan monk who genuinely smiled at me on my way to breakfast. At that moment I thought back to London and the faces of all those on their way to work at the train station, all with far more possessions and money than this man, but not even a fraction of his happiness. Another one of our teachers thought it was hilarious that some of us in the West die with so much money left unused in our bank accounts...
How challenging was it?
Being without my phone for 10 days was surprisingly a walk in the park. The biggest challenge was when uncomfortable or frustrating thoughts would pop up, having nothing to distract myself with, I just had to sit with it- no social media or Instagram to take my mind off any uncomfortable thoughts. In the long run, it was good to experience how your mind alone can solve anxieties and insecurities if you just sit with it for long enough in the right environment.
My advice on meditation
#1 Remind yourself of the benefits
Before you sit down to practise, remind yourself WHY you need to practise this self-care. Even though it may not seem the most exciting thing in the world, like eating vegetables, you will be better off for it.
#2 It's a marathon, not a sprint
If you have never run before, you don’t expect to run a marathon within days of starting. Take it slow and easy. There are so many amazing apps and guided meditations out there, just because you struggle with one does not mean you will struggle with all of them, one of them will be the right one for you.
#3 Consider a retreat
Consider a meditation retreat like the one I did! There are plenty available in all countries (even in the UK!) As one of the course leaders said to us- people take days off to go through their entire house, reorganise everything and get rid of things that they no longer use anymore. I like to think of it as a bit of spring cleaning for your mind! Just think of all the junk information that your mind has processed over the years, it is a chance for you to reflect on the mental state of everything in your mind and imagination.
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