How do you talk about silence?
Using words to describe a silent experience is an interesting endeavour I tried last year after the 10 day silent retreat I participated in. Here you can read the blog article I wrote then, in case you are interested.
Just a few weeks after the 17 day silent retreat I participated in this year (1/9 – 17/9), I am searching for the best words to talk about this time in silence. Words seem inadequate to talk about what can be experienced in silence, but these retreats have had such a profound impact on my life that I feel a responsibility to write about them, in the hope others may feel inspired to sign up too.
A life changing experience
First of all I want to say that the 17 day silent retreat at Hridaya is truly life changing.
Having the opportunity to experience life away from anything that identifies us with who we think we are, is freeing in ways I don’t think can be described.
I’ll start by talking about the retreat guidelines, the schedule and then I’ll talk about my experience in silence, using 3 words I’ve chosen to best describe it.
The most obvious element is the silence of course, known as Mauna, which is an ancient spiritual practice in which the devotee vows not to speak for a given period of time, in this case 17 days.
The retreat guidelines also encourage us to avoid eye contact with other participants, in order to cultivate a sense of introspection and solitude. This is a little odd at first but also very relaxing once you get used to it.
The participants are also invited not to read anything and keep their phones off for the duration of the retreat. Lastly, the retreat centre is stripped of all mirrors, meaning participants cannot see their reflection for the 17 days.
All this may seem a little strict, a few people have expressed this when I tell them about the retreat guidelines, but in reality all these elements support us in our meditation practice – the ‘core’ of the retreat.
- 6.30am Wake-up
- 7am – 9am Meditation
- 9am Breakfast
- 10am Satsang*
- 11.30am – 1pm Hatha Yoga + Meditation
- 1pm Lunch break (Time for rest, karma yoga task**, walk in forest)
- 4-6pm Meditation
- 6pm Time for personal spiritual practice
- 6.30pm Dinner
- 7.30pm Q&A***
- 8pm Satsang
- 9pm Meditation
The schedule dedicates more or less 5 hours to meditation every day, however participants may stay longer once the gong has rung to announce the end of meditation.
Although 5 hours may sound like a lot of time – it certainly did to me when I first thought of it – once a deep meditative state has been established, meditation becomes restful and the sense of time dissolves, resulting in participants remaining in meditation long after the gong.
Despite my initial resistance to talk about my own experience, I think there is value in sharing about some of the insights I had during this time. Here are the 3 words I feel best describe my time in silence.
This was one of my first reflections at the beginning of the retreat.
I started meditating over 8 years ago now, and have practiced meditation daily for about 5 years. I like to think I am at least relatively present in daily life, however the first few hours of meditation and even days of the retreat, I realised how distracted my mind was, revealing to me that I was nowhere near as present as I longed to be.
Discovering that one is not as ‘good’ as they thought they were is uncomfortable of course, but it is necessary in order to start from a place of authentic self-awareness.
During the retreat I also had the very uncomfortable realisation that I was very much self-absorbed. I perceived this clearly when I noticed my own irritation at people moving during meditation. As Sahajananda kindly reminds us, “during meditation you should not move but this does not mean you cannot move”, in other words the aspiration is to remain still for the duration of the meditation, however if the discomfort becomes too intense, we can move as quietly as possible.
If someone had asked me outside of meditation if I minded people moving, I probably would have been able to kid myself into believing that my very tolerating self didn’t mind at all. However the truth is revealed when you sit in silence for long hours and I was disconcerted to discover that I was annoyed at the sound of someone blowing their nose during meditation. One moment I was irritated and then I realised how egocentric that thought was. I had only been concerned about ‘my meditation’ being interrupted by someone, not considering that this someone was having trouble breathing… Again, a very unpleasant realisation, but equally fundamental to undertake a genuine endeavour of presence.
So far it may sound like I didn’t have much fun at the retreat hehe!
But I am happy to share that once acknowledged, these realisations appeared as elements of my idea of self, not the true Self and this created a space – giving way to a deep sense of peace and joy.
Once we realise that the agitation comes from our own reactivity to outer things and not the things themselves, comes a sense of irony and with it this peace I am not sure how to describe. It’s like realising that no matter what happens you can choose to react it or not. What a relief haha!!
With this tranquility also comes a lightness of being. An acknowledgement of how unnecessary and futile most of our struggles are. When we connect to the depth of who we are, beyond the constructed identity, we can simply exist and this is so relaxing and deeply nourishing.
During the retreat I found myself smiling most of the time. Not a teeth glaring smile to tell the world how happy I am, but an inner smile that bloomed at the smallest things, a blossoming flower, the sound of the rain, the sensation of grass under my feet and so many other things.
Spending time being more than doing reminds us that this ought to be our way of life and not the other way around.
During the retreat I discovered how little I needed to be well. My appetite lessened and even my need for sleep, and I felt full of vitality and presence. I didn’t count the days, nor think much about what I would be doing after the retreat. A part of me felt like I could live like that forever, in silent observation of existence. However, these beautiful insights also inspired me to be of service.
An important insight I had was that I can be of service to and for everyone, not only people seeking spiritual guidance, but to everyone and anyone who is suffering, by offering my presence and compassion to all at all times.
Sitting in the presence of and listening to Sahajananda, who emanates pure love and compassion is enlightening. My deepest aspiration is to become less ‘me’ so I can be transparent to the light of consciousness that we all are.
Please note I have intentionally chosen not to talk about the meditation method nor the teachings shared in the satsangs as I believe these ought to be received orally and in the appropriate environment.
If you are interested in joining a retreat at Hridaya you can find more information here.
Lastly I want to express my deepest gratitude to Sahajananda and to all the teachers and karma yogis at Hridaya. Your presence and kindness bring tears of gratitude to my eyes and all I can say is Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!
Satsang* Spiritual lecture given by Sahajananda or one of the other Hridaya Yoga Teachers.
Karma yoga task** Each participant is given a task at the beginning of the retreat which they must do every day. The tasks vary from sweeping, mopping, cleaning toilets to permaculture, making sure everyone participates to keep the space clean.
Q&A*** Participants may ask questions related to the spiritual teachings and meditation techniques in the form of anonymous hand written notes which are put in a bowl. The teacher goes through the questions and answers the ones they consider most relevant.
“Silence is the language of god all else is poor translation.” ― Rumi