My experience at a Silent Meditation Retreat

Hello, and thank you for checking out my post. I recently attended a silent meditation retreat that lasted 10 days at a center near Lyon, France. During the time I was there, I finally found a taste of some windows one can look at the world through which I knew must exist, but that I had not gazed out through.

The general layout of a silent meditation retreat, is you take a vow to not talk to anybody for 10 days. You go and live in the meditation center, and follow a schedule of meditations lasting up to a couple of hours, lectures, and yoga. I also was in charge of cleaning the toilets.

In the past, I have maintained an on and off “mindfulness” practice, consisting of watching the breath. When I showed up at the Hridaya center, I thought that this mindfulness practice was meditation. That turned out not to be so true. Focusing on the breath is used to access meditative states, but it just gets you in the door. Meditation itself is another beast entirely.

While mindfulness practices had previously taught me to identify and follow thoughts, meditation is more than that. I would describe it as coming into communion with your soul.

When you meditate, you sit down, and retreat your awareness into your body. In the Hridaya style, you focus on your chest, and feel the sensation of love grow. When you focus on the sensation, you end up creating somewhat of a positive feedback loop, and as you follow your breathing in your lungs, you imagine it blowing air across the embers of your soul, igniting the love that lies there. If your “ego” activates, which might include thoughts, memories, or reactions to sensations you hear or feel, your awareness might leave your heart center to focus on it. When you notice that you’ve left your heart center, you acknowledge the occasion, and allow your attention to come back to the glowing ember in your chest. This process should be restful, and gentle, but requires persistence and tenacity. Your ego will try its best to distract you with anxiety, prickling sensations it makes up, or other tricks, but it’s just asking for attention, and if it feels heard but asked to step away, you’ll feel the sense of relief as it no longer feels the need to activate.

Meditating like this has a few wonderful effects. First, we get to separate our awareness of the world, from the thoughts, feelings, and sensations of the “ego” which our awareness is usually “blended” with, giving us the necessary space to intercept and understand the nature of ego-based fluctuations before we end up identifying with them directly. Meditation also, through focusing us and communing us directly with the embodied self and soul, drives our identity into the body and produces a sense of “oneness”. I come out of meditation feeling that I am both a vague set of concepts, but also that I end up being in some way, “one” with every other consciousness in this world. They call this “not this not that” or “neti neti”. This oneness and the raking the embers of love in my soul bring me so much more compassion to the people in my life, and joy in emerging from meditation to be able to experience reality in all of its glory.

I have decided that these effects are changes that I would like to dedicate time every day to making permanent fixtures in my life.

Through the meditations and the lectures of the retreat, I also came to some conclusions about myself and the way that I had been living my life.

When I first started the retreat, when I would go inside myself and try to find my “I” feeling, or the place within myself that I considered my soul to inhabit, I would probably point somewhere in my neck or my head. Learning to feel my identity in my chest instead has been such a grounding, stabilizing shift. I feel less led around by my brain. I also used to feel, because of some long-term injuries, like my body was a bag of parts to be managed. Returning my self to its proper home within my body has enabled me to unify my felt experience again as a whole body. The retreat also gave me time to trace and verify muscle imbalances causing the continuation of these injuries. However, when feeling like a full body instead of as a manager of two arms and two legs, I found that I can absolve myself of the need to be diligent and vigilant over the actuations of these groups.

Nevertheless, having time to treat my body as a laboratory had its benefits. I found that when I chugged my water bottle, I could finish a 2/5 of it in 10 chugs. I could then calculate that my volume of water per chug must be 40 mL. I also found that when I took 10 chugs from the water bottle, I would need to pee something furious. I then realized why people sip water slowly.

I also found that my whole life, I have been trying to be taller than I should be. By standing up taller than my body wants, I end up not having enough curvature in my back, which causes my pelvis to come out of alignment and my ribs to flare too much. Being more comfortable in my own body allows me to not need to stand up too straight, which makes me feel more me.

Another learning was how to experience surrender. Our guru claimed it is the key to deep meditative states, and I found this to be true. When I surrendered my ego during meditation, I felt a sense of relief. Looking back, I can see so many times in my past that by not surrendering my ego, it would kick up when times got tough, and likely led me to give up on some paths before I really had to. I want to explore surrender in my love and the life’s work I undertake, burning myself up like a bonfire until there is nothing left, when I set my mind to something. It also helps me stay in my yoga poses much longer, and makes them easier and more enjoyable.

Meditation unifies with and between these ideas as one cohesive whole. If you want to chat more about this stuff, or might be interested in getting out of your head and into your heart as I have, please please reach out. I love you, and thank you for coming closer to me by reading these most personal reactions. Namaste.

Written on August 9, 2022