As today was a day of silence, I didn’t have the opportunity to take many notes; so my reflections regarding this day will likely be brief. But, let’s see what unfolds. :)
4:15-4:30 am: Time to wake up.
Waking this early is my own personal preference; rising at this early hour was not required by the retreat program.
4:30-5 am: Solo yoga.
Again, engaging in yoga at this early hour is my own personal preference; for me, it starts my day in a very positive way.
5-6 am: Shower, grooming, get dressed.
6-6:30 am: Walk.
Once again, walking at this time in the morning is my choice, not a requirement of the retreat. I appreciate walking in the darkness and stillness of this early hour, when the stars are still out, and life is still calm.
6:30-7:30 am: Early meditation session.
We did 25 minutes of silent sitting meditation, then 15 minutes of walking meditation, then 20 minutes of silent sitting meditation.
I chose to do this morning’s walking meditation session inside, bare-footed. The feeling of my toes and heels on the ground was deeply comforting; and the sound of my feet brushing against the carpet was fantastic.
I find that when I do walking meditation, my body tells me instantly when I’ve stopped being mindful. When I mentally drift, I physically falter. (And while I see this so clearly in meditation, it is likely true for the rest of my life as well.)
Just before the breakfast bell, we were reminded us that this period of silence is not intended to be punitive; but instead, is a wonderful opportunity for us to get to know ourselves better. We were also cautioned against being too pious, serious, or even deadened – life *is* happening, right now; and it’s wonderful to enjoy it.
7:30-8:30 am: Breakfast.
It was so peaceful for me to dine in silence with others, especially where the expectation is silence. I can just sit back, fully relax, and just be. Not have to do anything, but just be. What a gift.
8:30-9 am: Silent seated meditation.
During this session I felt my body breathing itself. “I” wasn’t forcing the breath, “I” wasn’t consciously inhaling, or exhaling, or trying to make the breath deeper or slower; “I” was just observing the process that my body was doing all on its own, with zero influence from “me”. It was quite amazing.
9-9:30 am: Guided visual meditation.
We all went outside, and chose an area of garden to look at. We first focused our vision on a patch of space the size of a quarter, and settled there for a few minutes. We then broadened our view to include a patch of space the size of a flashlight beam. After a few minutes, we increased the visual area to the size of a floodlight. Finally, we walked to a high hill, and viewed the entire panorama.
I am not used to meditating with my eyes open, so to practice in this way was simultaneously challenging-yet-interesting. But if I want to engage in mindfulness more than the amount of time I spend sitting on my cushion each morning (and I do), visual meditation is a good practice to cultivate.
9:30-10 am: Guided seated meditation.
Once back inside, we were led through the seated version of “mountain” meditation. During this session in particular, a frequently-used phrase from last year’s retreat experience sprung into my mind: “strong determination”. And while last year’s retreat was incredibly difficult, it really did “set me up for success” in my continuing meditation practice and experiences; and for that, I am deeply grateful.
10-10:15 am: Break.
10:15-11:30 am: Guided mindful yoga.
Today’s yoga session was truly blissful to me. My mind was so settled, and so peaceful, that I could connect with my body in a deep, helpful way. During these 75 minutes, I got to experience just how far I have come in my personal yoga practice: how much stronger and more flexible I am. Perhaps even more amazingly, I also got to witness how much kinder and gentler I am with myself, physically, emotionally, and mentally. Oh. Wow.
11:30 am-12 pm: Silent seated meditation.
At the beginning of this period of meditation, the poem “Fire” by Judy Brown was read. The imagery was quite powerful; and I immediately connected with the noble desire to open more space in my existence. Not a desire to do “less”; not a desire to remove “things”; not a desire to push anything away; but a desire to simply open up more fully to what is here, to what is – so that I can better experience life. To start and sustain a good fire, the logs are certainly important; but so is the open space, the “breathing room”. Similarly, to start and sustain a good life, the “doing” is certainly important; but so is the “being”, the calm of resting in what is right here, in what *is*. This poem helped put into words the value (and the importance) of “doing nothing” – i.e., of meditating.
12-1:30 pm: Lunch.
During this period I also took a walk by myself; and continued to enjoy the peace of silence.
1:30-2 pm: Silent seated meditation.
2-2:30 pm: Silent walking meditation.
2:30-3 pm: Guided lovingkindness meditation.
In the several different experiences with lovingkindness meditation I’ve had, I’ve found that each teacher has a slight twist on the words they like to use – but that the sentiment of this meditation is always the same. I’m delighted that we ended our period of silence with this method – what a wonderful way to transition from isolated introspection into shared community.
This period of meditation was very powerful for me. My emotions were much “closer to the surface” than usual, much more accessible: my usual habitual thinking mind had been given a break, so the generation of thoughts had decreased, and the thoughts that remained had been allowed to settle (much like mud will settle to the bottom of a glass if the water is simply allowed to rest [instead of continually stirred/shaken/agitated]) – allowing the emotions to float up to a more “visible”, accessible place. In the first round of lovingkindness (directed towards self) I was calm and content. But in the second round of lovingkindness (directed towards someone we love deeply), I began to cry. I was so grateful for the individual in my life, so honored that they see good in me and love me in return, and just so amazingly stunned at how blessed I am. In the third round of lovingkindness (directed towards someone we don’t know very well) and the final round of lovingkindness (directed towards a large group, if not the entire world) I just felt… spacious. Included. Whole. It was amazing.
3-3:30 pm: Coming out of silence.
To break our silence, we partnered up with one other person in the room, sat side-by-side and facing each other very closely, and whispered a 5 minute monologue about anything relating to our experience: how we felt about the period of silence, what we were experiencing right now, what we learned, what we hated – anything we wanted to share about our experience. I basically shared that I was sad that the silence was coming to an end, and indeed that the experience as a whole was ending; I felt like I grew so much during these three brief days – I could (can) honestly feel my life transforming.
3:30-4:45: Group discussion.
We dissolved our dyads, and formed one large group where individuals shared (in a normal speaking voice) about their experiences with the period of silence.
4:45-6 pm: Break.
I spent this time on a walk with three other people. At 4:44 pm I was in the same space as yesterday’s afternoon break – wanting to go for a walk with someone, but feeling like an outsider; so prepared to go alone. However, a very kind woman saw me, and smiled, and warmly asked if I would like to join her and another person for a walk. I lit up, happily said “Yes!”, and threw on my shoes. By the time we three made it to the front door, another person had joined us, and we became four. And it felt great.
As much as I appreciate silence, and enjoy solitude, I need other people in my life, too.
6-7:30 pm: Dinner.
I spent a good hour talking one-on-one with Saki, about his family, his meditation perspectives, his work, his personal interests… just getting to know a bit more about him. He’s a pretty darn cool guy, and I don’t even know a full 1% about him.
7:30-9:30 pm: A buzz kill activity.
So. Nearly everyone in the group is totally blissed out: we’re allowed to talk once again, we’ve had a great meal, we’re riding high from some deep meditation residuals… life is grand. Then, we are hit with this activity:
Step 1: Brainstorm as many world issues we can think of that impact us as leaders. (I.e., economic insecurity, multi-generational differences, globalization, etc.) Our list was long, and largely depressing. Positive energy gone. Depression beginning.
Step 2: Brainstorm all the different entities we can influence as leaders. (I.e., our coworkers, politicians/government, academia/schools, etc.) Hmm. Feeling a little better, a little more hopeful…but only slightly.
Step 3: Get in a group of six. (Done.) As a group, come to consensus on this question: “What one unique contribution or change would have the greatest impact or effect on one of the items addressed in Step 1?”
You have 15 minutes – go.
In the discussion/conversation/dialogue that ensued, I totally got to see people slight RIGHT BACK into work dynamics. This, after three-and-a-half days of dedicated meditation practice. In some ways, it was as if the past 80 hours never happened. With the sound of the word “go”, people transformed from peaceful, “everyday” individuals into high-powered, high-strung business folks. Yikes.
And with that, we disbanded, and went to bed. Thank goodness.
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