Have you ever wondered what a silent, weeklong meditation retreat is like? Unite Fitness president Gavin McKay just came back from one, and he’s sharing a peek of what it’s like to be silent, introspective and, well, Zen for a week straight. Read on for his insights.
A few short weeks before Christmas I was deciding what I would do for the holiday period. I had a few ideas, but most required a lot of money, pushing in on other people’s plans or the stress of throwing something together when there really wasn’t anything obvious or very appealing. The period between Christmas and New Years has always been a dead time with poor weather when I preferred to be doing something somewhere else, removed from daily routines. For this reason, Winter is the natural time for meditation retreats and my Shambhala meditation community offers 1, 2, 3 or 4 week versions. Yes some people go on retreat for a month at a time. I realized this year was my perfect opportunity to go so I drove off by myself to Sky Lake Lodge in Huson Valley, NY to meditate mostly in silence without technology for a week with 20 people I didn’t know.
There were generally two reactions when I tell people what I was doing:
1. A week? Is it really silent? Oh my God I wouldn’t last a day, i.e. why would you do that to yourself.
2. Wow that sounds amazing, you’ll be so relaxed and centered.
To be honest, as Day 2 was waning and I was sitting in the third 2-hr segment of sitting and walking meditation that day, I was starting to feel more along the lines of reaction one. "Oh shit. If I’m bored and not inspired on day 2, is this week gonna suck?" The great thing about such fearful driven thoughts (and all thoughts) is that they are gone as fast as they come if you don’t keep regurgitating them to yourself. About 10-20 seconds actually.
This is the critical moment in everyone’s retreat. You could follow the “quick judging, wish-I-was-somewhere-else mindset” and choose to bail on your commitment for something more pleasurable/comfortable or equally unuseful you choose to stay but frame the retreat as a burden/mistake and be miserable. Alternatively, if you follow the mindfulness instructions given, you just let go of that fearful thought, like all the others that popped up in the last minute of meditation, and see what happens. There is major comfort in the truth that everything changes naturally.