Yesterday I went to my third-ever all day meditation retreat. I have to admit, I was little anxious about going a few days before I went. And if I was being really honest with myself, I was a little cranky about going. The thought of spending an entire day doing nothing but sitting and breathing and not talking to anyone sounded excruciatingly boring. I could think of a million other things I wanted to do. I could think of a million things I probably should otherwise be doing on one of my days of the weekend.
But I went because I knew that I needed to go.
I practice Buddhism in the Sōtō Zen tradition, which focuses on zazen (sitting meditation). And this is what we did for most of the day. We sat for 20 minutes, and then we would do something else to break up the zazen, like walking meditation, or work practice (cleaning, gardening, etc). We had a formal lunch, and we even did a form of meditation called Mondo (which is really cool). These extra things broke up the day in-between periods of sitting. We were not to speak to each other the entire day unless it was to give very brief instructions during the periods between zazen.
It seems weird to not talk to other people, almost rude actually. However, once you are in this kind of setting you realize that you can communicate with other beings without words. No I don’t mean telepathic mind-meld. I am just saying that words are only one way we communicate. Maybe we don’t need to constantly be speaking to one another. It’s ok to explore not speaking to other humans who are in the same room with you. You know?
The first 20 minutes of meditation first thing in the morning I almost panicked because I sat there, bored and wondered if this is what I was going to be dealing with all day. Not a great way to start things off.
But then my mind settled and I fell into a groove of watching my breath and my thoughts.
At some point in the afternoon I realized that I was, very much, enjoying the silence. My life is full of chatter and noise. I work in a public library and noise comes at me from so many directions. And I am an introvert – so this chatter tends to tire me out. I have gotten used to living with this constant chatter that I don’t even notice it anymore. Until it isn’t there. So I was really grateful for the lack of chatter yesterday. It allowed me to really follow what was going on inside my head, and it allowed me to put some space around all of the thoughts so I could watch them arise and fall as they drifted through my mind.
Interesting thing that happened: all of those things that I felt like “I should otherwise be doing” didn’t matter at the end of the day. And they still don’t matter.