Growing up I never had pets. Ok, that’s a lie. I had a couple of fishes that I either over-fed or forgot to feed. I forgot the cause of the death. Ok, I forgot to feed them. And an angry little parrot that I never managed to tame.
As so many kids, I always wanted a dog. I preferred and angry parrot to a cat. No cats! But a dog!? OMGSH PLZ. But since I can remember myself, my family always moved from one flat to another. And by the time my mum finally created something I could call my home, it was time for my first year abroad in Belgium. Followed by another 5 other countries I’ve resided in so far.
Yeaaaah, no space and love for animals in this luggage.
Before New Zealand, I decided to go for a meditation retreat in Thailand. I was interested in the retreat due to a book I read on depression. And meditation as an equally, if not a better way to deal with it than drugs.
Luckily, I don’t have a depression but that got me curious. I’ve also been curious about the lessons of Buddhism which this Vipassana retreat delivered in a healthy, non-dogmatic starters’ dose. Anyways Buddhism is not even a religion, as there is no god to worship. And Buddha identified himself as a physicist, not a religious leader.
So after 3 months of spending every single day together, I and Andra went our own ways. All of the sudden I felt so alone. I thought this is the worst time ever to face my demons. I was afraid my loneliness would take over me and I will end up crying every day.
Day one of silence was shit. We had to wake up at 4am. Straight to the mediation hall. Meditate for hours and then have breakfast. Meditate. Lunch 11am- the last meal of the day. Well, at least I’m gonna come out of this a skinny bitch, I thought to myself.
On day three I felt a bit more human again. And every day it was easier and easier to meditate. There were barely any distractions. We were in a jungle on a tropical island. We were fed delicious food. For the first time in my life, I noticed how much better I felt when eating so much fruit and vegetables. Oh and you actually don’t starve if you eliminate animal products and that third meal of the day?
My biggest distractions – a new roomy and the chair lady.
The New Roomy
The very, very first day when we still talked, I heard some Russian. The woman who spoke it moved in my room out of the blue on the second day of silence. And that was after my little victory dance, celebrating that I had the premises all to myself. Damn it.
She had that sad, angry Eastern European face. She never smiled. Well, in all fairness nobody did the first half of the week. I guess I was the only weirdo.
I felt the benefits of such intense meditation almost straight away. I felt like Bradly Cooper in the Limitless. Ok, maybe not that dramatic. But my mind was really clear. I had an abundance of energy. I wanted to become a nun.
I observed these negative thoughts of having a roommate. And of course, it didn’t matter a day later. Actually, I was happy there was someone else to scare the scorpions away as I sheepishly took the top of the bunk bed.
Once the silence was broken, all of the sudden I saw Irina in a completely different light. This super nice, beautiful yogi DOES know how to smile. In one day I connected with her to the point that I would happily make an effort to see her again one day.
Needless to say, I was super embarrassed about all my stupid judgments beforehand, when this Russian Mother Theresa ‘broke’ my peace.
The Squeaking Chair Lady
I noticed this older lady in a group. It was definitely not her first time at the retreat. She seemed super dedicated. Like her, I chose a place right in the first line of the meditation hall. I knew I had to have everyone behind me since I love to spy on people and therefore I’d get distracted easily.
And then one day, this lady put a squeaking chair RIGHT in front of my nose, my practice. My chakras, my auras, my whatever everything! I’ve been doing so good. It was almost the end of the retreat. And suddenly this wave of thoughts of this Madame and her chair took over my mind.
And so I observed them as I was supposed to. And then I thought- No I will ask her to move when we’re done. And so I observed the thought. Squeek. I can’t do this! Use the sound. I hear, I hear, I hear. Squeek. I will throw that chair out. Thinking, thinking, thinking.
And then I never did anything about it.
On the very last day of silence, our teacher invited anyone keen to come up front and share their experience with others. One after another, all the chatty volunteers said more or less the same thing. Described same difficulties, doubts, joys, and relief.
It was one of the worst days of the retreat. I enjoyed the silence so much. And all these stories just started that endless chatter in my head again. I was not able to fall asleep that night.
Then my Madam with the squeaking chair took over the stage. She described herself as an ex-workaholic from the Netherlands. Almost ruined her health by working so much. Had a hip operation and therefore really needed that chair in order to continue her practice.
Needless to say- I was relieved I didn’t tell her off.
I wish I could say, I took away so much from this retreat. That I meditated every day since then. That I never ever made quick judgments about people again. That I now take the time to think things through rather than react to whatever life throws at me.
But of course, one week of silence is not a quick fix one might hope for. And as much as I want to go to that kind of a retreat again, I know it will have a minimal impact on my day-to-day life.
It was an amazing experience and an opportunity to see the benefits of the meditation myself. But a retreat didn’t make it a daily habit. And making it a habit is what really makes a difference. Even if just for five minutes a day. Continuous effort. A little bit better every day.