The Shift that Comes from Sitting Still

It’s been a week since I returned from the 7-day silent meditation retreat.  Aside from feeling more normal as I settle back into my former routine, I’ve noticed a new-found appreciation for sweeping the stoop, folding the laundry, and even emptying the dreaded dishwasher (my most abhorred chore). Curiously, I have a greater appreciation for the simple and mindless. These previously mundane tasks seem to have more meaning. Witnessing these after-effects, I’m appreciating that while I’ve “recovered” from the retreat, I’m different. I’m the same, but changed.

My Top Three Takeaways from Seven Days of Silently Sitting Still like a Statue:

  • The Body of Knowledge: The body, literally and figuratively, is our intimately private and exclusive “body of knowledge.” Because feelings and reactions are stored in the body like a memory bank, meditating (i.e., quieting the mind) to notice the body helps us access this personal, uniquely our own, vault of knowledge. As Ruth King (of as the teacher’s at the retreat) says, “Your Issues are in Your Tissues.”
  • The Point of Pain: It’s true, part of the reason for meditating in stillness is because our bodies aren’t accustomed to being awake, alert, and yet completely immobile. Muscles ache, tension develops, knots form, limbs go numb – but there is purpose in the pain. The pain leads us, if we are willing to sit with it (literally in this case), to greater awareness. Perhaps the pain just teaches us more about the physical characteristics of discomfort and impairment, but from what I learned from the Master Teachers leading the retreat, and what I personally witnessed and experienced, the figurative pain that is stored in the body and can be accessed with mindful attention, is far more insightful if we are willing to investigate it. Maybe it leads to joy and wonderment, or to memories that need processing, but sitting in silence, even when it’s in discomfort, only leads to presence. What is here now? How does it feel? Can I be with this right now right here, with compassion and without judgement?
  • The Power or Presence: All we have is now. Everything is impermanent. Everything is truly temporary. When we can appreciate this truth, we can learn to ride the ocean waves as opposed to getting caught in the surf. The Power of Presence is incredibly liberating when we realize, as Joseph Goldstein (one of the first American vipassana teachers) says “You don’t need to learn to let go, you need to understand that you can never hold on.”

A mindful, meditation-practicing friend and mentor encouragingly asked what shifted for me. Intellectually, through varied books read and workshops attended, I knew these “top three takeaways” as theories. Now, through personally experienced pain, presence, and progress, I know them to be truths. 🌟

So would I say something shifted for me? Yes, without doubt I am “with more peace,” which I think is different from being “peaceful” (because I’m not “full” of peace).  😊

Would I recommend it to others? No. I think it’s such a personal decision to know if this type of retreat would benefit you, so I wouldn’t try to encourage someone simply because it was beneficial to me.

Would I do it again? Perhaps, if I’ve forgotten what I learned. But I hope that’s not anytime soon because while I haven’t yet mentioned it, it was hard. Like really hard. Like, if it weren’t for some forgotten Twizzlers I found in my bag on day 3 that I spent two days looking forward to eating on day 5 (one of many self-crafted plans to incentivize me to stay), I might not have made it.

It’s been said that there are two types of suffering:

  1. One that leads to more suffering
  2. One that leads to the end of suffering

I would add:

3. One resulting from a self-imposed, silent and still exile.

Oh but wait, that leads to #1, which (perhaps after just inhaling some Twizzlers) leads to #2 .

With loving gratitudes,

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