Silent Meditation Retreat in the Deep Forest
I just returned home from a silent meditation retreat deep within the forest at a remote retreat center situated 9,000 feet high in the mountains and am feeling more excited than ever to begin teaching the upcoming Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course in the Dallas area starting this September. Feeling inspired and refreshed from the aliveness of the forest, I thought this would be the perfect time to begin a blog with the intention of sharing mindfulness concepts to live with more presence, authenticity, and intentionality and to tap into the fuller richness of life that is always present yet not always accessible due to our perspective.
I will preface this post with the fact that you do not need to travel to a silent meditation retreat or the wilderness to meditate. The beauty about mindfulness is that it can be accessed at any moment at any time throughout the day whether you are doing dishes, hugging a loved one, or meeting a work deadline. As Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “The real meditation is how we live our life from moment to moment to moment.” While I firmly believe this, what I appreciate about my silent meditation retreat experiences is that they add a depth to my meditation practice that I take home and integrate into my daily life. This is why I feel so passionate about formal meditation practice whether it be through retreat, the MBSR course, or a morning sit at home. I believe formal meditation practice allows us to be more present and mindful throughout the day. Being in the present moment allows us to create more space between what happens around us and how we respond. We are empowered and not at the whim of our emotions and thoughts; thus, we can relate to the stresses in our life more effectively.
My silent meditation retreat experiences always feel deeply sacred to me, creating a challenge in expressing my internal experience in words. I often feel hesitant to share my retreat experience with others because I hold them with such reverence. However, I consider it important to share because retreats have been so formative in my mindfulness journey. I believe that it takes great courage to be fully present with oneself in the silence. This is what I call “fierce presence;” to be fully present with all emotional and mental states that arise no matter how aversive, difficult, or challenging. It requires such bravery and can seem quite counterintuitive to turn towards what is unpleasant as opposed to the natural desire to turn away. To practice this fierce presence mindfully asks that we hold ourselves in this vulnerable state with gentleness, kindness, and self-compassion. It invites us to recognize the impermanence of all mental and emotional states and to realize that our thoughts and emotions are not who we are; they are not our essence. At a silent retreat, one does not have the typical distractions of life to avoid or tune out the present moment. How fully one accesses the moment depends on many factors including how willing one is to show up with fierce presence.
To start with, people are often curious about the structure of a silent meditation retreat. I have attended several Vipassana retreats which have all followed a similar routine. The days consisted of alternating sitting and walking meditations interwoven with meals, breaks, and a yogi job/working meditation. This particular retreat integrated sacred sounds including chanting and singing, which added such a rich texture to my meditation practice. The retreat was held in silence other than the sacred sound. All components of the day were intended to be either formal or informal meditation practice. The formal meditation practices