on Jane in India (India), 25/Nov/2011 06:37, 34 days ago
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On Wednesday I emerged from silence after a 7-day silent meditation retreat in northern India. The retreat started on 16th November, exactly one year since my arrival in India! A nice way mark my anniversary, give me time to reflect on the past year and transition from working to travelling. The retreat took place in a wonderful little haven set in a small Tibetan colony a couple of hours from Dharamsala. The location is beautiful, surrounded by the Himalayas and with a buddhist temple, accommodation, library and amazing healthy food all on-site.It was 7 days of silence and meditation, and the daily schedule went like this:5:45 - Wake up6:00 - Yoga6:45 - Meditation7:30 - Breakfast8:30 - Work (I was working in the recycled craft centre, making teddy bears!)9:30 - Guided meditation10:30 - Walking meditation/Personal interviews with the teachers11:15 - Meditation12:00 - Lunch2:45 - Meditation3:30 - Chai/walking meditation4:15 - Meditation5:00 - Walking meditation (& watch the sunset!)6:00 - Dinner7:00 - Teachings& meditation8:30 - Walking meditation8:45 - Chanting& meditation9:30 - Bed!It was the first retreat like this for me. I only had a little experience of meditation as part of my yoga classes, which was at the most 15 minutes at a stretch. I think I was the only beginner, and was very nervous! But I really enjoyed the week. There was a friendly, relaxed atmosphere, a nice introduction to the world of meditation. There were 12 of us on the retreat - a mixed bunch of people from different countries and diverse lives. A week of complete serenity and silence was so refreshing after living in a noisy Indian city for the past year - a week free from horn-honking, a chance to enjoy nature and reflect on the past year. I don't know if I progressed hugely with the meditation, I'm definitely not much closer to enlightment..but it's given me some things to think about:-Appreciate the Moment. When I was in the middle of a meditation session and itching for the lunch bell to ring, I realised this just made the time go slower. So I learned its better to enjoy the moment, and stop thinking about what was next..this is something that I will try to remember.-Stop& Smell the Flowers (or Watch the Ants).It was so refreshing to have time to do....nothing! True free time, in the sense that there were no distractions and no guilt that I should be doing something more productive (the goal was to stop and let yourself be). The days were full and structured so it didn't get boring. It felt like everything was in slow motion and being in silence heightened my other senses so that I noticed things more, like the sounds and nature that surrounded us. I would find myself staring at the grass for an hour completely engrossed in the movements of the ants and grasshoppers and butterflies. As odd/boring as this may sound, it reminded me of being a kid and spending hours exploring outside, completely entertained by nature. No obligations or distractions, no ipod or books or people - just silence& nature. In normal life there are so many distractions, trying to do so many things at once that we don't get a chance to experience things fully. It felt good to have a chance to appreciate the little things..-Reflection. During the week I was conflicted with trying to meditate (i.e. clear the mind of thoughts) and also the urge to reflect on things that come to mind during meditation sessions. I realised that I need time for both. I often find it hard to know my own mind and make decisions. Silence& meditation made me realise how much constant stimulation our minds get and by removing all the external influences meditation can help to understand and remember who you are.One of my favourite parts of the day (other than mealtimes!) was Work. We could choose between gardening, library or recycling. I chose recycling, thinking it might be sorting the recycled rubbish. I was pleasantly surprised when I was told we would be making teddy bears from recycled fabric for the gift shop! I enjoyed this hour, sewing (even badly) was very therapeutic and it was nice to chat (we broke the silence at work oops!) with my workmates and trainer. This is the product of my week's work:Deciding that it might not pass safety standards, I decided to buy the teddy bear and keep it to remind me of my week of silence.In case I'm painting a tainted picture, it wasn't all peace, love and harmony. It felt at times like being in an asylum - picture in your mind people wrapped in blankets sitting still in silence for hours on end, or walking very slowly in bare feet on the grass, with bells to tell us when to eat and sleep.. At the end of the week I got restless with the meditation and the routine. I was frustrated by the Indian "guru" whose talks made absolutely no sense. I have heard more inspiring words from the chai wala, enough said. There were people that got to me (the airy fairy cheese cloth-wearing hippie who kept cracking her back during meditation, sipping herbs from a mug and harmonising during chanting..). But I decided that it's best to experience something like this in its entirety, go along with the silly hippie mumbo jumbo, then take the positive learnings from it, and forget the rest. Overall it was a very positive experience and by the end of the week I felt so relaxed and didn't want to leave!Going back to "real India" after a week in a bubble was a bit scary. I'm in Amristar now, which is as crazy an Indian city as they get, but luckily it is saved by the enchanting Golden Temple! I'm going back to spend the day there to follow...