It was exactly one year ago today I went on a 9-day silent retreat.
I remember a sinking feeling in my stomach as we approached the monastery.
I felt nervous. But most of all what I remember were thoughts screaming at me: "Why on earth am I going to a monastery to spend nine days in silence with some monks?"
We pulled into the parking lot and my husband offered to carry my bags into the reception area. I told him to leave me there and just go. I wanted my family to depart as quickly as possible, or else I'd be too tempted to jump back in the car and go with them!
I checked in and found my room. The door next to mine led to a chapel and prayer room. There was a crucifix above my bed. Nothing else on the walls. Oh god, what had I let myself in for?
Noble silence began at 5pm.
That meant no talking, no writing, no phone calls, no emails, no texting, minimal to no reading and no eye contact with anyone. No communication with the outside world. Nothing for nine days. There were bell ringers to let you know when a meditation session was beginning and ending and when it was time to eat.
And so it began.
The first few days were tough. I was able to sit and mediate for several hours at a time. Then the inevitable pain kicked in. I wasn't alone. Everyone felt some kind of pain after sitting for so long. My wrists began to swell and my back began to ache.
After three days of practising silence and stillness in pain and with churning thoughts, I was beginning to think I'd made the wrong decision to be there!
Then it happened.
Something changed inside me. It was a shift. An eye opening, eureka moment.
The truth is, I experienced many revelations during that week of silence. But something is compelling me to share one particular breakthrough, in light of the recent world events that have affected so many.
First a bit of context - for several years, I'd been frustrated with my meditation practice, because of the constant churning thoughts. I'd sit and bring my attention to the breath and within moments my attention would be pulled away into thoughts. I constantly battled to bring my attention back to the breath.
The funny thing is, until the retreat, I'd believed the objective of mindfulness was to keep your attention for as long as possible on the breath. To empty the mind of thoughts. To clear the head of all thoughts and create 'head space'.
And then I discovered on that third day, I had it all wrong.
Mindfulness is not about achieving a goal, or striving to be anything other than who we are in this moment.
It's not about emptying your mind to create 'head space'.
It's learning how to soften and open to your thoughts in such a way that you can allow them to come and go and show them a gentle curiosity.
To bring equanimity to them.
To peacefully accept them.
To let them be.
That's what mindfulness is. Paying attention to the present moment, with an open curiosity and a willingness to be with what is.
Imagine if you will, sitting outside on a summer day, all seems right with the world, then you notice some dark clouds approaching. You stay curiously where you are. It begins to rain and get windy. You're soaked to the bone and cold. Then the clouds pass. The skies clear. The sun shines again. You feel warmth and begin to dry out.
This is how we come to be with our thoughts. We bring curiosity and awareness to them, we observe them and learn to welcome them into our home.
All of them.
The happy thoughts, angry thoughts, sad thoughts, worried thoughts, the judging thoughts and the critical thoughts. Only then can we come to understand that we are not our thoughts. That they are just thoughts.
They are not who we are.
We don't need to react to them. We don't need to try and control them.
Last Friday we watched in horror as Paris came under siege.
The world sadly shifted.
There was shock, fear, sadness and despair. There was anger and hatred.
How will the world respond? Will it react and retaliate? Sadly I think it probably will.
There was another shift too - a movement towards kindness, gratitude, peace and love.
It's time to wake up.
To open our eyes. To be still. To listen deeply.
To pay attention to our heart and intuition.
To learn how to be with what is with a non judging attitude.
Maybe it's time to start a quiet revolution.
Actually I think it already started.
May you be healthy, safe, happy and in peace.