Five days of no talking, reading, writing, or making phone calls. No internet, social media, music, TV, computers or any other form of distraction. I have just been on one of these silence retreats. To my surprise so many asked about my experiences that I decided to write them down straight away (now I am allowed to communicate again. Yippee!).
This type of meditation is over 2600 years old and is offered around the world. I had wanted to do this sort of retreat for ages, but they normally last ten days, and trying to free up that much time is next to impossible. When my ‘neighbour’ on Mallorca told me that she was organizing a five-day retreat in her beautiful home (in other words, just round the corner) I knew straight away this was something I wanted to do. I wasn’t really bothered by the fact that my 44th birthday was in the middle of the retreat so that I would not be available. When I took part in Survivor nine years ago, I celebrated my 35th birthday in a cave in Malaysia, where I was likewise totally unreachable by anyone else. There is something special about it. I wasn’t afraid of the silence. In fact I was looking forward to it. I am often alone, which I enjoy, so I knew that would not be the challenge. Lots of the other participants were afraid of it, by the way, or so they told me. I was mostly intrigued what it would be like to not record immediately my experiences in photos, diaries, or share them on social media. And to be honest I considered dropping everything I was involved with at the time as a challenge: the deadline for my book, renovating our old farm, friends coming to visit, etc.
Why would you do a silence retreat? The Sri Lankan teacher explained it brilliantly. We all shower on average once a day, brush our teeth, use cosmetics and keep or bodies clean in all sorts of ways. But when do we clean our spirit? This is not common in our culture. Imagine the fact that we are all born with a clear spirit. A bottle of clear water. And then you start adding spoons of mud through parenting, school, relations, work and other problems/interactions/conditioning. Shake and your bottle of water/spirit is not as clear anymore. The hazy water stops you from seeing clearly. The longer you let the bottle stand, the more the mud sinks to the bottom. And so you can see clearly again. But when we ‘rest’ or go on holiday, we do not let our spirits rest. On the contrary – our brains are like a pack of wild elephants: they run in every direction. We make to-do lists, drag up all sorts of problems from the past and worry about the future. In short: we shake our bottle around vigorously again: troubled waters. During a silence meditation you let everything sink to the bottom. Because you learn/try not to think and attempt to live the moment, the mud has the chance to sink to the bottom. The result: peace and a wonderfully clear, sharp spirit and perspective.
Normally when I (very very rarely) meditate, I let the images and thoughts in my mind come at me without steering or following them. It gives me peace and occasionally some beautiful images and insights. Vipassana teaches you to think of nothing. You just have to follow your breathing and everything that could possibly distract you (thoughts, sounds, the pain in your knee – whatever –) and name it; ‘that is a thought’, ‘that is a sound’, etc. It was hard work. We had to do this about six times a day, divided into ‘sittings’ of 45 minutes. I was constantly distracted. Following your breath is boring. I didn’t enjoy it at all. After 2-and-a-half days I considered stopping this rather basic form of meditating, and let my brain out for a ‘test run’. Wow! What a wonderful peaceful and clear spirit I had all of a sudden! And so I continued, be it in a lower gear…
A few beautiful lessons from the ‘guru’. They sound tremendously cliché, but if you think about them for a few hours or days, they really make sense.