In the first part of this blog last month, I explored my journey to reconnect with the presence of others in silence. Working with silence has been a huge journey for me – one that has taught me many things. And I feel like there is still much to come. If you want to read this first, click here. Here, in part two, I explore the theme of another week-long silent retreat…embracing myself just as I am.
Embracing the full me
This retreat was somewhat different, run by a Buddhist movement called Triratna at a Buddhist centre called Rivendell (yes, like Lord of the Rings!), it was a small and peaceful retreat centre. The two teachers, Singashri and Balajit, were ordained Buddhist teachers and the atmosphere was beautiful.
Yet, I watched my slight aversion to some of the traditional ceremony of the retreat. There was chanting and rituals alongside the meditation but in the end, I realised it was rather harmless and I could actually enjoy it! This was aided by the ‘real’, down-to-earth nature of the two teachers. Their feet were firmly on the ground, running real lives as well as teaching. I also felt they were comparatively young and had a passion for social justice. I was able to relate to them in a way I hadn’t experienced before.
The theme of this retreat was ‘Radical Embrace’ – building the ability to embrace and turn towards all of our experience – not just the pleasant and lovely parts 😊
Having come off a bit of a treadmill with work, I got the full experience of this. It turns out that running a Mindfulness social enterprise can be full-on at times, so I really needed this time to come down. I knew that the beginning of the retreat would be difficult as my mind was scattered and somewhat creative and certainly didn’t want to be concentrating!
I had daily 10 minute meditation check-ins with one of the teachers, Singashri who gently listened and guided as I explained where I was at, usually through tears (I have learned to accept that when I’m in silence and asked to speak, I often cry – no biggy anymore!).
I decided to give myself a couple of days of being kind to myself and then I would ‘get serious’ and get more concentrated.
The first days came and went and sure enough, I felt myself come down and gain more focus.
By the time Singashri had introduced something called the Dhyannas (a way of exploring different stages of deepening meditation), my mind had somewhat settled.
But then, something happened.
I started to strive after this experience I had had during meditation with the Dhyannas. This one of focus, open, almost blissful at times. My mind started to clutter again – striving unwittingly to get back to that state. I was getting frustrated and feeling somewhat angry and uncomfortable. I also found myself circling some issues in my life – in a way that wasn’t productive.
Despite the fact that I teach this and know that meditation is about turning towards all our experience including the bad stuff, it is tempting to crave the pleasant, calm meditations, the ones that make you feel blissful. The irony is that the more you strive after that, the further they seem to slip away…
So, I realised what I was doing – that mindful, light-bulb moment of ‘waking up’.
I realised I was putting pressure on myself. I could feel it on my shoulders and in my chest. It’s a bad habit in my life in general and guess what? I was doing it on retreat too.
I did what I’ve taught myself when I have circular thoughts, and allowed them to whir in the background, not paying much attention, just allowing them to be…
I went for a nap and a walk. It was then I realised that I truly needed to meet myself where I was at.
And gradually, there it was – I tuned into myself, this more contracted yet compassionate-to-myself-state and allowed it to be there. I befriended it, if you like. Sensing the feelings in my shoulders and tension in my chest, allowing that to be there too.
In that way, there was a relaxation from striving.
A peace with what is.
Embracing where I was at.
A moment of radical embrace.