It’s Friday the 12th, and I’m a few hours out from having left the surreal surroundings of a 7 day silent meditation retreat. Why I did it and what I learned is for another day. I’m still adjusting to the sensations of life moving at a normal pace, with usual sound. One thing you may not know, as I did not some seven days ago, is that silent meditation retreats aren’t just quiet, they are also so intentionally…s-l-o-w. The movement from walking from the mediation hall to the dining hall is meant to be thoughtfully calm, with the ease and steadiness of a sloth, but a mindful sloth of course.
So if you are about to embark on such a journey in say a few hours time, which was where I was last week at this time, please allow me to share a few insights in case it helps you prepare.
My Top Three Silent Sufferings from a Silent Meditation Retreat:
- Sitting still and quiet like a statute is meant to allow for insight into what is happening now, at this very moment. It could be that pain visits, perhaps in the physical form of tailbone aches from sitting or shoulder tension from holding your head for hours in a motionless position. Or perhaps it’s emotional pain from memories that arise, which can be addressed with care and compassion. It could also be that deep gratitude visits and rests peacefully within the heart. Including dealing with all of the above, I was also struggling with the pool of saliva that amassed in my mouth. If you think swallowing is silent, think again. You will never be aware of just how loud a simple reactionary process is until you are packed tightly in a room with 100 nameless (remember there’s no talking) strangers who appear to be sitting with ease, silently, and saliva-less. Why saliva pooling happens, and doesn’t happen, is (at least in my case) one of life’s great unresolved mysteries. So just embrace it, and perhaps brush your teeth a lot.
- It was harder than I expected to be silent, not because I missed the chatter or cheerful socialization, but because I missed supporting others. Specifically, I quickly realized that I didn’t like not being able to express my appreciation for the teachers (there were 4 teachers who would take turns leading guided mediations three times a day, each of whom was oh-so-wise-and-funny-and-encouraging). On the second day I spotted a white board meant for communicating with the teachers, essentially on an emergency basis. I decided I was essentially facing my own communication crisis, so I took to writing notes that read “Such an amazing session today. I couldn’t imagine the retreat being as rewarding without you.” I’d write several of these throughout the day, stealthy posting and not signing them so as not to “get caught” and risk being guided into redirecting my mindful resources. This didn’t exactly solve my crisis, but it helped ease the silent suffering.
- Beans, beans, beans. They may be good for your heart, but you know what else comes with that. If you are like me, and beans are not the main-stay of your daily diet, the vegetarian meal plan may have unintended, unwelcome consequences. I was beyond relief, you could say I erupted with joy, when I found some squishy green pills labeled “gas relief” in the community medicine cabinet. When you are trying to meditate in absolute silence, you don’t want to be the person that disrupts the sound barrier. Swallowing is one thing. Your own personal gas explosion was simply beyond anything I was able to even consider. So I writhed in pain while managing to keep my bean bowels silent. It was by far the biggest of my silent sufferings, and I’m happy to report, one met with silent, odorless success.
Perhaps next week I’ll write about what I learned, aside from the efficacy of Gas-x. But for now, I’m enjoying the sounds, scents, and sensations of being with my family, and even my gassy bull-dog Mac. Believe me buddy, I know your pain.