Have you ever felt like you would just like to slow everything down? Not just the pace of the outside world but also the pace of the thoughts and ideas racing through your mind?
I have been increasingly feeling like this over the past few months.
Thankfully my evolving practice of self-care, highlighted that I needed some down-time to REFUEL, so I took myself off on a 3-day Silence and Meditation retreat to the Nan Tien Buddhist Temple in Wollongong.
Other than the stark awareness that:
I walk fast.
I eat fast.
I write fast
I even breathe fast!
Here are 3 of my personal reflections & learnings:
1. I only thought I knew what Mindfulness was!
When you walk a mile in the sandals of a Buddhist monastic, you begin to realise what true mindfulness is. It encompasses everything from how you eat, how you walk, how you breathe to how you exist in this world.
The sense of awkwardness set in when I sat across the dining table from a complete stranger in my cotton pilgrim uniform, eating my dinner in TOTAL silence.
No “Hi, I’m Dianne”.
No “Where are you from?”.
…and that collective sense of awkwardness amplified by people fidgeting, not knowing where to look and the clinking sound of fork and knife on plate (How did I get to 44 years old and not know how to use chopsticks?).
Over the course of the 3 days. This practice of mindful mealtimes has encouraged me to be more conscious of my food and my eating. Focusing on what is in front of me rather than being distracted by something I have done or something that needs to be done.
Something as simple as enjoying a cup of coffee…paying respect and acknowledgment for the conditions that brought this cup of coffee to me…the growers, the grinders, the distributors, the barista…the makers of the coffee cup, the cows who provided the milk the farmers who tend them…the sun, the rain, the unique weather conditions required. The work required to earn the money to pay for the coffee. And that’s all before taking a sip!
The next time you sit down for a meal, observe what is going on in your mind…are you thinking over your day, are you planning for your next meeting, are you scrolling through social media? Or like me, did you get to the end of the bag of chips and are suddenly surprised that there’s none left?
2. There are many different ways to Meditate
I practice meditation daily and have done so for about 3 years. Recently I had not been gaining the same level of peace from my practice and had started to trial some new techniques.
On the first night, we gathered in the Meditation room. My arthritic hips and knees prevent me from achieving lotus, half-lotus or Burmese pose, so I sit on a bench with my feet firmly planted on the floor, wedge cushion under my buttocks and hands in meditation mudra. Three prior nights of uneasy sleep meant I caught myself swaying…jolting myself back from the edge of sleep!
I no longer give myself a hard time about my meditation practice…I just reset my mind and continue to practice.
Throughout the 3 days, we engaged in seated meditation, fast-walking meditation, slow-walking meditation, standing meditation, calligraphy meditation, doodling meditation and Tai-Chi (meditation-in-motion).
I had never tried Tai Chi before but it was hands-down my favourite new discovery. Synchronising the inhale & exhale to the fluid movements was peaceful yet energising.
7am standing in the courtyard after experiencing the monastics perform their Drum and Bell ceremony and morning chanting, 50 participants are guided through the graceful Tai Chi movements (I am sure I was so much more graceful in my head than I was in reality!!). The crisp morning air, the gentle drops of rain and the magnificent temple backdrop heightened the experience.
Since leaving the retreat I have added a 15min Tai Chi practice to my morning routine. It has brought a wonderful sense of grounding and peace and really sets my breathing pace for the day. This is very welcome for someone who has suffered with anxiety and panic attacks.
If you have tried meditation and feel it hasn’t worked for you, trial some different techniques and remember to peacefully let go of your thoughts…including the ones that tell you “I can’t meditate” “this is not working” or “meditation is not for me”.
3. Embrace Impermanence
As a Change Coach and Facilitator, I am always seeking ways to support people and organisations through change.
Over the 3 days there were introductory talks about Buddhism, something I knew very little about. I was surprised and delighted to learn how it very much aligns with my personal “happy path thinking”.
One of the core Buddhist teachings asks us to accept that everything changes.
Everything is “impermanent”. When we want or expect things to be permanent, we set ourselves up for disappointment (even suffering), when they change.
- When we lose a job we thought we’d have for longer
- When a relationship ends that we thought was for life
- When we suffer financial hardship after a long period of security
- When our good health goes into decline
Our expectation of permanence of relationships, things and circumstances, does not serve us.
If we embrace impermanence, we better appreciate what we have in the moment and can better adapt to change.
Have a look around you. Is there anything that you want or expect to last forever? How would your day-to-day life change if you acted as though they were not permanent?
This beautiful hedge caught my eye each day as I walked past it….it became a symbol of change and impermanence.
It had been aggressively cut back with much damage yet, with time, vibrant new growth was springing forth.
One day it will die. The place where it stood will be empty until it fertilises the ground for something new to take its place.
I highly recommend a silence and meditation retreat as a way to slow down, recharge and gain perspective, however, I would suggest you consider the following before signing up:
- Check-in on your state of mental wellbeing. If you have a therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist, I would recommend having a chat to them about your intention to attend. The sense of isolation and potential for magnification of negative internal dialogue should be considered, particularly if there is no psychological support at the retreat.
- If you are thinking of going with a friend, I encourage you to reconsider. There is a tendency to break noble silence as well as a sense of external distraction. I feel I benefited so much more from going on my own.
- I felt a sense of lost opportunity to connect with my fellow participants. Something had brought us all together as a collective, yet there was no chance to debrief our experiences or learnings. Know before you go that this is a very solo journey.
I would love to hear from you if you have participated in a Silence & Meditaion retreat or if you are considering attending one.