Five years ago I returned from a ten day silent meditation retreat – a Vipassana meditation course. The practice of silent meditation has fundamentally changed the way I live my life. Silence releavled for me an ‘art to living’¹. Perhaps there is a primitive hermit within every soul calling for some quiet in this busy life?
Mother Teresa said of silence, “In the silence of our hearts he will speak to us, if we stop talking and give him a chance, if we listen, if we are quiet….the psalmist sings: ‘Be still and know that I am God’, he will speak.”² On Vipassana retreat you are asked to honour Noble Silence for nine full days, the tenth brought me reluctantly back to my voice and to the chatter of others. Why silence? It’s funny, but this is the one question people ask me about, but in fact it is the easiest of the disciplines to follow. I didn’t go with friends and probably wouldn’t want to, so apart from the social niceties of wishing to thank someone who opens the door for me or pours me a cup of tea, there is no need to be distracted by other’s voices and experiences – this is your healing process, this is your opportunity to reshape the habits of your mind and it dilutes this potent time to ingest others’ mental escapades. I loved the silence of the whole retreat. Each morning found me walking over the frost kissed paddock, a copse of silver birch etched against the dawn sky – like a silent snow queen I felt utterly present, complete and connected to the landscape. The collective focused energy of concentration in the meditation hall was like a warm blanket to snuggle into. Was it God who spoke to me in the silence? Gandhi said that ‘God is Truth and Truth is God’³. My experience was an awakening to Truth and a sense of embodying these teachings at the deepest level of my being, of bathing in the light of my own Truth. Did it feel divine? It felt like a universal constant realisation of love. How can that not reshape awareness?
How can we too carve some precious silent healing space into our lives? The full nine days is something of an endurance event, but I love to facilitate silence into my days, your practices and our retreats in little bite size pockets. Maybe in the practice of meditation, perhaps honouring the moments of waking with silence and then perhaps extending this beyond the bedroom and until breakfast is completed. Little sweet nuggets of contemplative space to simply be with what is and know what is not.
Formal sitting meditation is something of a feat for the unprepared body, which is why yogis use the practice of asana to prepare physically and tone the resolve. The perfect cocktail is a full practice of asana, pranayama and meditation practiced consistently, no matter how small the timescale each time - consistency is the key.
On retreat it is vital for me to get outside, immerse myself in nature and to LOOK UP. So much of each day is spent either with eyes closed, or respectfully looking at the ground to avoid eye contact with others, so there is a danger you can feel like you are composting, becoming too earthy – balance this energy by looking up, to the horizon, the moon, the blue tits bitching in the tree, lift your gaze to the heavens.
This is not easy work, but it worth our efforts. This is where the healing happens, the clarity emerges and the joy begins to erupt from within you. But until we begin to KNOW this, while we work, tending the soil of the soul with our efforts, there will be times of hardship, when the frustration rears its angry head, when the tears of past pain drip off your jaw, when the sobs that erupt like lava from your heart and throat engulf you. BUT know this…. it WILL pass. This, like everything is impermanent and this will heal you at the roots of your consciousness. You can learn to live, healing in the balm of loving kindness.
I offer a five day retreat each Autumn, at the stunning venue of Northcourt House, nestled in botanic gardens and within walking distance of the Downs. Together we explore silence, meditation techniques and immerse ourselves in the supporting embrace of a contemplative routine of asana, pranayama and satsang. We have one full day of silence and each morning. Details can be found here
¹Goenka, S. The Art of Living. https://www.dhamma.org/en/about/art (accessed on-line 6/2/2015)
²Blake, A. (1990). Meditations by Mother Theresa of Culcutta & her co workers. London, BPCC Hazel Books.
³Gandhi, M. (1995) God is Truth. Educa Books