Last weekend I had the first opportunity to lead two “silent full-day retreats” in a row. The “day in silence retreat” supports participants in the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program (MBSR for short) to strengthen and deepen the experience of mindfulness and is an essential part of the eight-weeks.
Silence is officially rung in at the start and broken at the end of the day, when participants initially are only permitted to whisper. The experience in a group-setting is deeply connecting and is experienced as being extremely enriching, especially for participants who are used to silence, as they live alone.
During the retreat, sitting meditations focusing attention on the breath, body awareness, hearing (to sharpen sensory perception), recognition of the process of thought-flow or immersion in open awareness, alternate with walking meditations, mindful movement in standing, lying or sitting and with a body scan. Other types of meditation are also practiced, such as a lake or mountain meditation and a practice for compassion or loving kindness, also called Metta.
The lake and mountain meditations, which are my favorites, are metaphors used to connect us with the inherent properties of nature, such as stability, grounding, imperturbability, flexibility, and inner strength. Characteristics that allow us to imbibe inner stability and stay equanimous in challenging times. “Awaken the mountain within you!”
An important part of the day retreat is the practice of mindful eating. We are so used to taking our meals in standing, at haste, and usually in the company of family, colleagues, or friends, accompanied by talk, chatter and a lack of concentration. The perception of what we are eating and ingesting fades into the background. The only aspect that prevails is the intensity of taste. Eating in silence, sharpens all our senses, allowing us to experience the entire process of food preparation, of cooking, of arranging the meal on a plate, of setting the table, and of eating in its totality. Suddenly we become aware of hitherto unexperienced visual, tactical, odor and taste stimuli. According to scientific studies, food is digested better and more completely during a mindful meal. How about a try?
Inspiring stories and poems as well as short lectures on elements of the program complete the agenda.
The gentle introduction of speaking, after six hours in silence allows a further contemplation of the day, of insights revealed, effects of meditations and exercises, inspirations from texts read. The silent retreat motivates participants to consciously continue this path of mindfulness even after the end of the MBSR course.
“A beautiful day”……
“I feel in tune with myself”…….
“Time has passed in no time, are we already at the end of the retreat?”
“I could remain silent forever”…….
“I want to be deliberately silent once a week!”
“All my senses and taste-buds were completely open during the meal. What an explosion!”
“I was initially a little bit wary of today, but from moment to moment the feeling disappeared……”
The fluid transition of formal meditation practice into informal practice made us open, curious, and fully present for any experience, without categorizing it as pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. The cultivation of mindful awareness, as way of being, is more necessary than ever, especially in these times of unpredictable, disruptive crisis.
In the words of the Master Thich Nhat Hanh:
“Silence is essential.
We need silence,
just as much as we need air,
just as much as plants need light.
If our minds are crowded with words and thoughts,
there is no space for us.”