I have been on three meditation retreats in the last three years, and I am getting ready to book a next one.
You could say it has become a kind of addiction – this need to be alone – but it is a good kind of addiction. It is a balancing and refreshing and healthy addiction.
For a few days or a week, I take myself away from the fast pace of city life and
chill out hide out in the countryside.
They take your phones away on the retreats I go to.
Sometimes you share a room, sometimes you have one on your own.
There is never any wine, and there is always no meat.
Most of the time the vegetarian food is delicious and wholesome. Sometimes it consists of way too many beans.
I have been on completely silent ones, but in every one, there are periods of silence.
This does not mean just not speaking. It means no or minimal eye contact, no reading or writing, and no singing or listening to music.
On the first retreat I went to, I found myself wanting to make connections with people. On the last one I went to, I sought out the quiet spots.
Though I must point out that a highlight of a group retreat, are the wonderful people you will meet. There is kindness, compassion and understanding to be found in sharing silence.
Oh yes and of course an integral part of these retreats are…the meditation sessions themselves.
My favorite retreat has three 30 minute sessions of Meditation per day as well as long periods of silence, and mindful cooking and gardening.
The emphasis on this retreat is learning how to lead a mindful life, with meditation being a part of that.
Mindfulness is defined by the Oxford Dictionaries online as:
a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations
Meditation is defined by the Freedictionary.com as
Meditation is a practice of concentrated focus upon a sound, object, visualization, the breath, movement, or attention itself in order to increase awareness of the present moment, reduce stress, promote relaxation, and enhance personal and spiritual growth
So how can awareness of the present moment help us to lead more creative and fulfilling lives?
(Image from Calm Down Now)
So, how does meditation work?
First off, the practicalities –
Sitting on the floor for sometimes up to an hour at a time can be excruciating. (On some retreats, people sit for hours at a time)
As a beginner there is a lot of squirming and fidgeting – to be honest, one of the best things I have learnt as a meditator is that it is ok to sit on a chair or lie flat on your back.
If sitting cross-legged makes it uncomfortable to be in the moment, than this defeats the purpose.
Remember that meditation and mindfulness is not so much about emptying your mind, as much as learning to observe the thoughts that pop up, and letting them float on by.
This along with observing the breath, will anchor you in the present moment.
(By observing the Breath, I mean, breathing normally, and paying attention to the flow of the ins an outs.)
So, if you decide right now to sit on your own in a quiet room for five minutes, lying on the floor or on a chair, or cross-legged. You will notice how the mind simply just will not shut up!
You will be thinking about what to eat for dinner, if the Apprentice is on at 9 or what clothes to wear for that night out on Saturday –
The key is not to judge yourself for this seeming inability to just sit quietly, but to observe each thought and let it glide past.
This is how you will stay in the moment.
Occasionally inspired thoughts such as the first line of a poem might slip by – and you are going to want to grab that and savor it…and let it go.
Because practicing this regularly will mean that it becomes a part of you and you will have these inspired moments regularly.
I rarely sit down to mediate anymore.
I find myself meditating by being mindful in everyday life. Whilst walking down the street, whilst sitting on a bus.
A few seconds of listening to the thoughts that enter your mind as if a passive observer, will seriously calm you down so that you can see the wood for the trees each and everyday.
Then something miraculous happens.
You will be able to filter those thoughts into constructive and non constructive ones, creative and mundane ones.
So do not just take my word for it, go ahead and try.
Meditating is something I find quite hard to explain and can be different for different people.
A lot of the retreats I go to specify that if you are struggling with your mental health, you may find it hard or even traumatic to be so close to your thoughts, so always seek the advice of your GP or medical professional if you are worried about this – before attempting meditation.
On the other hand, Mindfulness as a therapy, is often taught to people with mental heath issues such as Depression and Anxiety – Please again check with a medical professional before signing up for a course if you have any doubts.
For those who feel meditation is right for you now, I would always suggest starting with a guided one and taking it from there.
So here is one just for you!