In 2003, I decided to go on a two-week meditation retreat vacation. My thinking was that when I had previously traveled, it almost always ended up being quite exhausting when you factor in all the flights, places to see and things to do. This time I wanted it to be about having both a physical and mental break that would enable me to really relax on the inside and hopefully come back from my holiday a little more enlightened.
Leading up to the retreat, I experienced feelings of nervousness and anticipation as I pondered what the experience would be like. While I had been meditating for several years, it had been a while since I had immersed myself into an environment where the entire focus was based on “going within” for the duration of the stay. This included long periods of not talking, eating food that was light, fresh and healthy, and not having any contact with the outside world.
The meditation center was nestled high up in the mountains, far beyond the reach of any noise or interruptions of the modern world. The first thing that struck me was the deafening silence. We rose at 5:30 a.m. on the first day, and to get to the meditation hall we had to walk for about two miles up a snow-covered track in the freezing cold for our morning meditation. The air was crisp, the snow crunched lightly under my feet, and the tree tops seemed to merge into the still-dark sky that had not yet felt the touch of the morning sunlight.
Already I felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders as my mind fell quiet in response to the environment, and my body got into a steady rhythm of walking up the hill. By the time I arrived at the meditation hall, the sun had started to appear on the horizon and the dazzling white of the snow and the crispness of the clear blue sky was breathtaking. From there I went through a day of meditation rounds, which consisted of a series of meditations spread out over the day. In between each session, we went for long nature walks, drank fresh juices, ate organic plant-based food, and met in small groups to talk about our meditation experiences.
I have to admit that the first few days were quite challenging for me, as my body was letting me know that it was not too happy about all the changes to my daily routine I was demanding from it. From aches and pains in my legs and back while I was meditating, to going to bed still feeling hungry, I kept wondering what the heck I was doing. By day four, though, everything suddenly changed. I found myself able to comfortably sit longer in meditation and my mind felt like it could now quickly settle into a space of silence without objecting too much about it. The walks through the mountain trails and snow became spellbinding as everything around me started to look and feel more vibrant and alive than I could ever remember.
I no longer felt the urge or even the need to talk to anyone. If I did come across someone, we would just hug for a few minutes in greeting, or somehow end up walking in the same direction in total silence. I noticed that all my senses were becoming heightened through the meditations, and it felt as if every cell of my body was now vibrating with energy and aliveness.
Perhaps this had always been the case, but I had just been too busy to notice. My mind was also clearer than I could ever remember it being, and I really started to appreciate moving slower and spending the time to be more mindful of where I was and what was happening in the moment. By the end of the first week I felt happier, healthier and more alive than I could ever remember. All the stress and tension that I had been carrying around in my everyday life seemed to have completely melted away, and in its place was a deep sense of calm and peace. By the end of the second week, I was hooked on meditation for life. I knew now that I could take what I had learned from this experience and apply it to my work and home life with ease.
After returning home from my meditation retreat vacation, I got myself into the routine of taking a mini-vacation from my busy schedule on a daily basis. Just by setting aside 30 minutes every morning to take time-out to reconnect to that silent place within me, I was able to start the day with a deep sense of calm and peace. The best part is that I get to carry that space with me during the day. It not only helps everything I do go smoother, it also helps me to proceed through the day with a more relaxed rhythm and with much less stress.
The best way I know to maximize any retreat experience is to give yourself permission to enjoy the benefits of what a retreat has to offer right in the comfort of your own home. This is as simple as setting aside anything from 10 minutes to an hour every day where you take time-out to disconnect from the world around you and reconnect to your inner silence and peace. This is where you get to replenish depleted energy reserves and take a well-deserved break from the mind and endless tasks.