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Reflections on a retreat...
"My first-ever retreat was with SIM and I went along enthusiastically but with a few concerns from stories about 12-day Vipassana retreats. Maybe the retreat would be different from the friendly and relaxed approach I’d experienced in meditating at the sangha.
I’d received emails on what to bring, getting a lift, maps and had a contact for more information but that didn’t quite address my uneasiness.
My first concern was pain, or discomfort as they say at childbirth preparation. My back likes support and sitting unsupported for a good part of three days seemed risky or worse. In fact challenging myself to sit through pain was not expected or encouraged. In any case, I found that my back liked my new stool.
My second concern was how I would find the Noble Silence. I was keen not to feel distanced, awkward or irritated by what was clearly a key feature of retreat practice. I was surprised by this experience. My first reaction was a strong sense of self-reliance and freedom. A lot of things I might have asked others about I now needed to think through, recall or observe. I noticed the lack of my usual anxiety and distraction in a big group of people. I felt supported and comforted, with a far greater sense of communication than I expected. I’ve since discovered that other people enjoy the silence for similar reasons.
I’d wondered about feeling trapped on the retreat. Apologies for the paranoia, but hello to those who can feel this way. Since I started on a camping retreat at Gorricks Run, I hoped there would be no problem. There wasn’t. On later retreats in shared rooms I’ve found that silence creates lots of space, clear expectations and continuing comfort.
Smiling faces at the end of a 7 day silent meditation retreat with Stephen and Martine Batchelor (centre), Sine Cera, March 2012
I’ve learned a lot about openness, generosity and insight from dharma talks, meeting with a teacher one-on-one and being in small group sessions. My expectations of my meditation practice are not high. I’ve found that the benefits generally occur not while meditating but in the rest of my life. I feel more grounded and calm, get flashes of insight in unlikely moments and am able to manage difficult times more easily.
On retreats the benefits of meditation and mindfulness seem to accumulate. I have experienced breakthroughs that would not have been possible with less time, space and support from teachers and the community that we are there together."