August 13, 2013

What a 10 Day Silent Retreat Taught Me about Life. ~ Ashley Holly McEachern

5 life lessons learned on a 10 day silent meditation retreat.

Ten days later I emerge with an unprecedented sense of calm and a controllable fear of losing everything those 10 days allowed me to touch, to taste, to surrender to.

“How was it? Are you talking again?” ask those who are lucky enough to encounter me in my first few days reunited with the world.

“It was torture,” I reply cunningly.

A soft grin tells them that either I am a masochist or there is something more to be said, but it deserves a much longer, stronger conversation, seated in the park with flowers in our hair.

“There is so much emotion coming out of you,” she exclaims, upon stumbling along my path back into reality. She is right. I know it very well. I can feel it.

I can feel the pulsing of blood through my veins, the energetic flows of bliss and fear and peace and anger maneuvering through my body. I can feel a little sea creature popping its head from one organ to the next, peeking up past my skin, tempting my mind to grab hold of it and make meaning of it. Oh no, little fella; you will stay until you need to go, and go peacefully.

That is what Vipassana taught me, to feel it, to really truly feel it all—every last inch of it. Not the thoughts, not the words, but the actual physical sensations (both external and internal) that surface pre-emotion, pre-reaction, pre-crazy.

Ah yes—10 days of silence, of sitting cross legged in meditation for 10 hours per day, also taught me that we indeed are all crazy.

Lesson #1: Reactions

I have spent the past 27 years of my life (yes, I am certain I did this when I was just a newborn also) blaming others for my misery. Whether it be the administration of McGill for not accepting my MA application or my pile of ex-lovers for cheating, lying and breaking my heart.

Sure, I have acknowledged on the intellectual level that I do play a role in each situation (study harder, choose carefully), but 10 days with myself exposed a wilder truth—that it has always been my reactions, rather than the actions of others, that have caused my struggling. I chose to let other actions and decisions affect me. Whether that means I end up jumping for joy that he said “I love you” and then becoming dangerously addicted to that love or wallowing in a hot mess of myself when he tells me he loves her.

It has and will always be my reaction to those things that determine how much real peace, real harmony, I experience in my life.

Lesson #2: Craving

First, listen to this song:

Then think about all of the things in your life that you desire—whether it be for coffee and wine or for more grandiose things, such as advances in your career, a partner to snuggle with you each night, a raise in your income, a child, travel—and think about how much misery and pain you put yourself through when these things (all material) are not achieved.

Consider the consequences of your craving.

Lesson #3: Aversion

Those sensational feelings of frustration, anger, demise and unhappiness when things don’t go our way, when we don’t get what we want, when our cravings aren’t satisfied—ah yes, those are again, our own demons.

A few breaths (well, maybe more than a few) and some deep meditation won’t instantly make it go away, but will indeed make it get better.

Lesson #4: Detachment and Impermanence

I read somewhere “Learn to love what is left when all that you love is gone.” That is what vipassana is; a strict intense lesson in living without—the friends, the family, the partnership, the conversation, the dinner, the stimulation. And rather living with your one true soulmate: you.

Lesson #5: Love

What is this “love” thing? Can you truly love another? S. N. Goenka, the man who has taken Vipassana around the world, argued that no, you cannot. Indeed you can love yourself (assuming you can comprehend what the “I” or “Me” of yourself is) but to love another is oft ridden with craving and aversion.

And in wanting love so desperately, we enter a pattern of feeling angry and sad when it doesn’t come in the form we visualize. We send ourselves into misery…yet again.

“Yes, it was the most lonely, horrifying and challenging ten days of my life, but I will go back each year,” I say to my friend. She looks at me flabbergasted at the irony of my words.

But the truth is that the clarity and calm created from that deep process of self-reflection during those ten days is beyond any healing modality I have ever seen. Macklemore agrees.


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Assistant Ed: Ben Neal/Ed: Sara Crolick

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