In early 2013 I made my New Year's Resolution to be that I would spend more time being quiet. I deactivated my Facebook account to avoid unnecessary interaction and booked myself in to a silent meditation retreat at a Buddhist Monastery located deep in the forest toward the outskirts of NSW.
I had wanted to do a silent retreat for many years. I knew it would be hard, but wanted to do it all the same just for the experience.
It definitely was not easy, but the experience was amazing. We would wake up at 5am and fumble through the dark forest with our torches and go up to the Temple, where we would sit for 2 hours for chanting and meditation. The sound of the monks chanting was just beautiful, and we were given transcripts of the chants translated into English so that we could understand what they were saying. From what I could take from it they were merely wishing the world well. It was truly beautiful.
After morning chanting and meditation we would do Qi Gong (which is similar to Thai Chi), then sit down to a beautiful vegetarian breakfast prepared by volunteers. You would sit on your own under a large tree overlooking the beautiful valley and mountains and enjoy your meal. We were asked to do an eating meditation as we had breakfast, and this involved being mindful of what we were doing, and while we enjoyed our food also send our good feelings and energy out to others. It could be anyone anywhere in the world.
A beautiful soup for our evening meal, I enjoyed under a big tree overlooking the valley and mountains.
I really liked the fact that we were to remain silent, unless of course we were asking the monks questions during Dhamma talks or needed something. I felt happy knowing that I could just sit by myself, focusing on my own thoughts and no one would approach me for that awkward 'getting to know you' conversation. Even in the wash rooms we all respected the theme of silence, and only spoke if we needed something. I had actually forgotten my toothbrush and toothpaste of all things, and so I would quietly ask another guest if I could borrow their toothpaste, then use my fingers. They would just nod and smile.
It was in the wash rooms that I thought about just how different it was to be surrounded by other women, as we brushed our hair and got ready, but did not talk. I imagined the conversation that would normally take place in this type of situation and we would most likely be commenting on each others beauty products, talking about what to wear, asking where each other bought their shoes or clothes and one person might even talk about how they feel about their weight or how they look. The list could go on and on. There could even be a bit of gossip or bitchiness. But there was none of this. And this in itself made me aware of how much talking can influence how you feel. By remaining silent none of us could influence the other, and we were all allowed the space to just be.
A monk would take us on a walking meditation through their beautiful garden, guiding us through. He told us to take our minds for a walk just as we would a troubled friend. What would we say to our friend? Would we distract them from saying negative things about themselves and remind them of all their good qualities? We were to focus on our breath at first, and were told by the monk to allow thoughts to come and go, not to hold onto them.
A stepping stone along the walking meditation track through the garden.
It was an amazing weekend, and I learned so much in just a couple of days. The most important lessons I learned was not only to be mindful of the way I speak to myself, but of how I speak to others. The saying 'If you have nothing nice to say, don't say anything at all' rings true. We should allow others the space to just be, and also allow ourselves time to be quiet and just sit with or walk with ourselves.
During a Dhamma talk with a monk he referred to a Lotus flower in the garden and explained that it didn't grow to be this beautiful from clean water and dirt. It needed muddy dirty water and manure to grow. We laughed, because we all knew that what he was trying to imply.