My First Experience at a Meditation Retreat
Meditation was always something that I have been curious about since I was a young adult. I saw it as an alternative to living life focused solely on the materialistic things. Surely there must be more? The mysterious inner workings of the mind and what lies within have always intrigued me.
One day, after much deliberation and searching, I decided to take the plunge and enrolled in a 10-day retreat of austerity and challenge.
It was probably one of the toughest experiences I've ever tried. It was a torturous first few days although it's strange how physically and mentally one adapts. On the final day, I was feeling a more balanced state of mind and I was a little hesitant to leave such a calm and peaceful environment.
"It was probably one of the toughest experiences I've ever tried."
As someone who loved to eat (especially meat), the diet restrictions were seriously demanding. We were served two simple vegetarian meals a day (breakfast at 6:30 am and lunch at 11:00 am). Dinner at 5 pm consisted only of a piece of fruit.
The first few days my stomach rumbled consistently throughout the night and my mind craved all the delicious meals I could imagine. Each bite of my fruit dinner was savored, and the breakfast bell brought waves of relief. It was interesting, although, to feel yourself gradually become less attached to food mentally and physically.
Apparently, the human body can survive for more than a month without food so surely it can handle several hours? The difficulty, however, lies in breaking the natural habit of the mind. I found that towards the end of the course I had sufficiently adapted physically and mentally to my new diet. My body felt lighter and my mind seemed sharper.
Every day began with a 4 am wake up call and ended around 9.30 pm. We practiced “mindful meditation” for around 9 hours per day. It was a time of being alone with yourself . . . a time of introspection and of reflection. We get so caught up in the drama of everyday life that we rarely take time out from external distractions and just do “nothing.”
Entertainment and Communication
It was an environment of minimal external distractions. We were alone with nothing but the thoughts of our minds and the senses of the body. No distractions from TV, internet, music, phones, reading, or writing. No communication with others, whether verbal, physical, or even by gestures. We were in our own state of solitude.
We all have our little pleasures in life. Our appreciation of these simple things deepens when we experience our lives without them for a short time. There were many moments during the first few days when I would miss the little things that I had been accustomed to at home. At the end of the retreat, my attachments to these external pleasures seem to have lessened. I had developed a more balanced state of mind that wasn’t as affected by the external environments around me.
It was a strange experience to have our usual sensory input reduced to a minimum. As the days passed, one notices a subtle quietness and sharpness of the mind developing. Compare the mind going from an ocean of waves and thoughts to a still lake with thoughts rippling beneath the surface.
Life is not as simple as going on a retreat and then your problems are solved. I experienced a glimpse of a path towards balancing the mind. It is a long journey on which I had taken a few steps. Just as we need regular exercise and commitment to develop the body, it is similar for the mind.
The challenge is to continue in my practice and to gradually learn to develop more moments of mindfulness in my daily life.
© 2017 jkjim