Life Lessons From Two Days of Silence and Stillness
“When we get too caught up in the busyness of the world, we lose connection with one another – and ourselves” ~ Jack Kornfield
When was the last time you went two full days without saying a thing? Without the distractions of phones, computers, media, work or anything else that bogs you and your mind down?
When was the last time you let the inner stillness that this silence brings penetrate the core of who you really are?
Last weekend, I did just that, attending my first retreat at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts. The retreat was designed for first-timers like me as a way to introduce you to formal mindfulness practice within the support of a community environment. IMS has the distinction of being co-founded in 1975 by several well-known pillars of Western Buddhist practice, including Sharon Salzberg, Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein.
For two-and-a-half days, we alternated between sitting meditation, walking meditation, formal instruction, eating and work periods to help maintain the facilities and operations. Bells were rung to signal movement, the retreatants maintaining our “Noble Silence” through it all.
The campus was beautiful. Nestled on 250 forrested acres in Western Massachusetts, you felt removed from the hustle and bustle of modern culture. Nearly five miles of trails took you deep into the heart of the forrest — a place where I spent many of my walking meditation periods quietly listening to the wind whipping through the pines and gazing upon the sun rising through the patchwork of branches.
Inside the main building, we shuffled about in our socks, quietly moving between the main meditation hall, the dining room and other open spaces of stillness and reflection. We ate simple, home-cooked vegetarian meals sourced from local and organic producers; we drank only tea and water; what waste their was made its way to the compost bin. Mindful consumption penetrated all.
I’ve spent the past week reflecting on this amazing experience and wanted to share what I have taken away:
- Silence and stillness is necessary in our lives. Just like you turn off your car to cool the engine down and rest after a long drive, giving ourselves periods of quiet reflection should be built into our day-to-day routines. Our culture drives a go-go-go mindset where you’re always on, always plugged into something for stimulation. Separating ourselves from that — even for a few hours — can help to reset the batteries in a good way.
- Time and schedules have too much influence over us. It took some time, but after the first day of the retreat I stopped looking at the only clock I could find hanging in the main building. I let go of the need to check the time and let it influence my next action. Of course, schedules play an important role in work and home life, but we should try to let go of the need to always know the time; to let a set of numbers tell us what we should or shouldn’t be doing. Go with the flow and let your free spirit guide you instead.
- How you experience life is up to you. We may not have control over what we experience, but we sure do have control in how we experience it. The practice of mindfulness, formed and shaped by meditation, can provide you with practical “tools” to help you respond to experiences both good and not-so-good. Grounding ourselves through our breath, the touch of our feet to the ground or even our hands to the steering wheel can bring us back to the moment and clear away the angst, impatience, anger and other emotions that block our ability to find simple happiness.
- Simplicity is a powerful pathway. Clearing away physical and mental clutter; unplugging and slowing down to savor the joys of simple things; foregoing the Throwaway Culture of Convenience in favor of mindful consumption. These stepping stones pave the path for merging the practice of mindfulness with that of voluntary simplicity. It returns us to what is truly important in life. It enables us to show the world that there is a different, more meaningful way to live and find happiness.
If you’re interested in exploring the practice of mindfulness and meditation more, IMS has a great jumping off point on their website. And while there is a spiritual element to it all, the practical health benefits of meditation are well documented.
What has been your experience with mindfulness and meditation? How has your life changed by bringing this quiet reflection into your day-to-day?
Thanks for stopping by. While you’re here you might also enjoy these other posts:
- 16 Ways to Practice Mindful Consumption in a Hyper-Consumer World
- Mindfulness: 37 Everyday Places Where You Can Practice Enjoying the Moment
- The Gift and Responsibility of Awareness