I am not going to lie, re-entry was a bit tough, but I expected it would be based other spiritual retreat experiences.
After 11 days of no technology, ten of no talking, not spending money, or making one single decision beyond which pair of sweatpants I was in the mood for, or did I want to floss my teeth after lunch or dinner, I faced major sensory overload. Everything just felt like too much. For two days I couldn’t listen to the radio in the car, I didn’t look at social media or watch T.V. It’s funny, while I was gone all I wanted was to watch Parenthood, and I couldn’t stomach it when I got back. A week later I am still craving quiet. I put the radio on in the car for the kids, but when I am alone I enjoy the silence, and I have only watched a few episodes of Parenthood.
I went to the grocery store the day after I got home and I felt like I was on another planet. I was walking so slow, when I normally buzz around like a neurotic bee.
I will admit that I was happy to be reunited with my undereye concealer and hair dryer. I was pretty sick of looking like crap. I didn’t have the au natural, I just got off a tropical beach and I have such a gorgeous glow that I don’t need makeup look. I had the I rolled out of bed and don’t have a roll brush or makeup with me look. I was over it!
I actually craved meditation when I got home. My practice has always been about 25 minutes in the morning, and a spotty afternoon sitting, but since I have been home I have been keeping up my second meditation of the day, even if it’s short, and my morning sitting has bumped up to 35 minutes. Vipassana teaching recommends an hour morning and evening, but I am not putting that much pressure on myself as a working mom, or human being in general. When my kids go to college that will be a beautiful schedule to adopt. I am simply doing the best I can for now, and I will bump up when possible.
I have not been super obsessed with my phone, and I am maintaining something you could consider a boundary, but apparently mindful eating is going to be a lifelong struggle. I had 30 meals to practice while I was gone, but it hasn’t completely stuck. It will take concerted effort every day going forward.
It is amazing what deep thoughts you have when you are alone with yourself for an extended period of time, and how profound and important these thoughts seem in the moment. No matter what, the following lessons will be with me forever:
First and foremost, I am so grateful to have learned Vipassana Meditation. This was a true gift to myself. Vipassana is all about the purification of the mind so that we can be free of the attachments and aversions that lead to suffering. The principle of Vipassana is the law of nature, that nothing is permanent. The practice is experiencing this at the deepest level of all, in our body, by focusing on the impermanence of our sensations. We practice observing our sensations with an equanimous mind, and we don’t create cravings or aversions to them. By doing this we can help to clear out old mental patterns of attachment, and not create more patterns that are detrimental to our happiness. Make sense???
Some days you have to make your own chai! On Day 2 there was the most amazing chai served with breakfast. I mean divine. It was second only to the chai at Chocolate Tree in Sedona, and that is saying a lot! I woke up on Day 4 dreaming of the chai. I was laying in bed at 4 am willing it to be at breakfast. It wasn’t, and I was a little sad when I walked in (a craving!) but I realized that I had a choice. I could be disappointed that nobody made me chai, or I could grab a chai tea bag, milk, honey and cinnamon, and create a version for myself. I admit, it wasn’t as delicious as Day 2, but it was good enough, and I had chai.
Chai became a metaphor for me that morning. I can wait around for things to show up in life, or I can make them happen. In the future, when I feel disappointed about something not happening for me, I will remember this chai and figure out another way to get as close as I can.
Show up for yourself! You know what I did when I thought there was no way I could meditate one more time? When I would have rather punched someone in the face than meditate, I hit my cushion.
I started hearing the gong that they woke us up with and called us for meditations throughout the day even when it wasn’t ringing. I heard it in the middle of the night when I rolled over. I heard it while I was walking around the pond. I contemplated if I could get PTSD from the gong.
I have to do things all the time that I don’t want to do, like going to the grocery store, packing lunch for the millionth time, and dishes what seems like every second of the day sometimes. However, in those cases there are people counting on me. Am I going to look at my kids and tell them, “ Sorry guys, you don’t have lunch today. I didn’t feel like making it.” Nope, but the difference is this was just for me.
I wasn’t on a spa vacation. People hear the words silent retreat and think it is so relaxing, but I worked so damn hard.
I found out how far I was willing to go for myself. There were plenty of times that I had to remind myself that I wanted this. I am worth the work. I will go out on a limb for myself and do just what I think I can’t do because I am that important in my own life. This was a ten day commitment to myself, and there was no way I was quitting. I found out just what I am capable of.
Some moments were torture, and some were among the proudest of my life. At times I wanted to run, but I couldn’t leave myself hanging. I had to be my biggest support system and my own best friend. This was an extreme, I give you that. We can be our own best friend in many small ways in our day to day lives, and we should. But for some reason at this point in my life I needed to not only be there for my family, friends and clients, I needed to see how far I would go for ME. That was the pull I felt, and what I couldn’t explain until I actually accomplished it.
I know this experience will make me a better wife, mom, coach, teacher, friend, daughter, sister, and most of all ME. I now know just how strong I am.
You are never done. Since there were no distractions from my thoughts I was front and center for a few that showed me how much work I still have to do. I compared myself to others, I judged myself and my progress, and I internally lost my shit when the people around me cracked their knuckles incessantly. No matter how much work I do on myself, there will always be more!
You may not like what you see when every thought is front and center, but you must love and accept yourself, and find compassion for yourself too. I am not perfect, and it has never been more obvious after ten days alone with my thoughts, but I am trying every day to be better. I am committed even more deeply to learn, grow, practice, release, try, do better, fail, recommit, practice more, and dig deep.
I did finally slow down. I stopped getting annoyed at the people walking slowly in front of me, and taking FOREVER to mindfully wash their dishes when ten people were standing in line behind them. I mean, what the heck else did I have to do?
Slowing down is a constant struggle in my every day life. As a working mom trying to fit in clients, work outs, running errands, walking the dogs, being a wife, and fitting in an occasional pedi and coffee with someone all before carpool, homework, activities and dinner, it isn’t realistic to think I can maintain the speed of a slug all day long, but I have gained awareness and can feel the difference between warp speed and a comfortable pace.
I am sitting down with the kids to have breakfast instead of running around the kitchen now, and it is so nice. Yes, it means getting downstairs ten minutes earlier in the morning, but I start the day with the kids feeling mindful and connected. Since your kids learn more from what you do than what you say, I need to walk the walk. I want them to enjoy all the precious moments of their lives, and I have the amazing opportunity to model that for them.
Usually when you want to give up the good stuff is about to happen. I walked into our 2:30 pm mediation on Day 5 with a sore ass and no desire to meditate. We were instructed by our teachers that three times a day from then on we would be doing “determination meditations,” meaning you could no longer move or adjust during them. Our hands, feet, and eyes had to remain absolutely still.
I am a major fidgeter. I think I really do have undiagnosed OCD or something, but that is another post altogether! I have never been perfectly still in my life and I was petrified. I really wanted to succeed, and you know what? I did! I was so incredibly proud. I literally shocked myself. I opened my eyes afterward and broke into a huge smile. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the woman on the cushion next to me fist pump the air. I guess she did it for the first time too 🙂
Nature is absolutely amazing. The sights of nature were breathtaking. Since there were no distractions such as a conversation or walking with your head bent toward your phone furiously typing, you were able to notice every fiery sunrise, pink and lavender sunset, stars that looked like polka dots in the sky, and the crystal clear reflection on the pond.
You always have to be willing to laugh at yourself. On the fourth day we were told that we were ready to learn the Vipassana technique. I was so confused because I thought we were doing the technique with the breathing exercises we were given on the first day. I thought I was totally rocking Vipassana, but it turns out that was just the warm up! The technique is layered, and new instructions came every 2-3 days with practice time inbetween. That is why the course has to be ten days. It really takes that much time to learn and practice. I got a good laugh at my expense. It was ignorance at it’s best!
There are more lessons, but these are the highlights and I don’t want to loose you! So, let me end with the question I have been asked many times in the past week:
Was it as hard as you thought???
If you asked me on Day 3 I would have told you no, but I can see with hindsight that I was in the honeymoon phase. I hadn’t cried yet, and the days were going fairly quickly because everything was exciting and new.
In the early days I thought about the quote “wherever you are, be all there” a lot. I was determined to be in the present moment and make the most of this opportunity to spend ten whole days focusing on my spiritual practice.
If you asked me anytime on Days 4-8, I would tell you that I now know what it feels like for time to completely stand still. The days seemed to take forever and I was riding out the storms, so it was the hardest part for me.
If you asked me on Day 10 I would tell you that it wasn’t that bad. You know how after being pregnant or running a marathon the good moments stand out much more than the difficult ones? That is how I felt at the end.
In those ten days I felt every emotion on the spectrum of emotions.
I felt inspired
I felt proud
I felt wise
I felt clueless
I was judgmental of myself
I was compassionate toward myself
meditations flew by
I could feel myself transforming
I wondered if anything was happening at all
I felt so sure of why I was there
I had no clue why I was there
I felt grateful
I wanted to run
I felt fulfilled
I felt bored
I felt lucky
I felt crazy
I had fun with myself
I was sick of myself
Now that it is over I understand why the two most popular words people use when they reference ten day retreats are transformational and excruciating. I couldn’t pick two better ones myself.