I was on a silent meditation retreat this weekend. From Friday evening till Sunday afternoon. I hadn’t been on a retreat for a long time so this felt like a perfect length for me to ‘dip’ my toe back in again. There are so many things I could write about this weekend, but here are a few nuggets.
The theme of the retreat was mindfulness and compassion, which I strongly felt that I needed a reminder of! I can get so wrapped up in my to-do lists that I forget to be mindful and forget to be compassionate - mostly towards myself. When the deadlines aren’t reached, how often do we respond with compassion, kindness and understanding? I was keenly aware that I had lost a sense of compassion for myself and also keenly aware that I sometimes keep myself ‘busy’ for the sake of being ‘busy’ rather than just allowing myself to be. So this retreat came at an excellent time.
It was a mix of ‘formal’ seated meditation, walking meditation and then quite a lot of ‘free’ time where you could get to choose what you wanted to do. Though, there wasn’t really anything to “do” - which was kinda the whole point! We were at a meditation centre in the middle of ‘nowhere’ (gorgeous nature area) with no ‘distractions’. We weren’t allowed to talk, read, write or listen to music and therefore was definitely no Netflix or internet! So what does one ‘do’ with oneself when you are left in silence with your own thoughts ??
It might sound boring, and boredom may indeed set in at some point but actually, when you allow yourself to slow down completely and listen to what the body needs and wants, you often find that it is enough to just be. So I spent a lot of time just sitting and looking at nature. I spent a lot of time drinking tea - who knew that drinking a cup of tea could take a whole hour??!?! I spent a lot of time resting - physically and mentally. Many of the participants slept a lot, I just lay still in the meditation room and looked out at the sky, at the birds, at the trees… and do you know what? It wasn’t boring at all, it was absolutely amazing and such a relief to just ‘be’ there and know that that was ‘enough’.
I was surprised at how easily and quickly my body and my mind slowed down. I am very aware of how busy my mind usually is, so was fully expecting to sit there and struggle with my busy mind but no - it was surprisingly quiet. It had apparently got the memo about us going on a silent retreat, and I was very grateful for that! Once in a while I thought, how do I bring this silence and calm home with me to my daily life and I realised that, because I was on retreat, I was “allowing” myself to take a mental and physical break. I was giving myself “permission” to take a break and not overthink everything, cos that was “allowed” on the retreat. I was “allowed” to take an hour to drink a cup of tea, because there was nothing else to do and that was part of the experience. So the question for me became, can I “allow” myself the same experience at home? Can I give myself “permission” to experience self-care. Because that is really what it is: I took the weekend to care for myself. It came up several times during the retreat, that this was a gift we were giving ourselves. The gift of time and space dedicated to caring for ourselves.
So, can I give myself permission to care for myself at home? Intellectually I said ‘of course’ but then, why don’t I? The thing is, there is always more to do right? There is always something else that needs to be done first before we can take time for ourselves. Though, our facilitator said, maybe it is not so much about ‘time’ - we don’t all have time to spend an hour drinking tea! If you do, great - I highly recommend it! But it might not be feasible on a daily basis. So maybe it’s not so much about the time we take, but more about the intention and awareness.
One of the ideas of the ‘free time’ - is to give yourself space to tune in and connect with what you need and want. And it also helps you see yourself and your habits more clearly. I realised just how much I multi-task every day! I would be having breakfast, writing notes down, checking my phone while watching YouTube! You know what I mean ?? I am not a morning person, so I usually take about 2 hours to get ready for work from when I get up. I work from home, so don’t need to commute. These 2 hours include writing ‘morning pages’ (From Julia Cameron’s book “The Artist’s Way”), having breakfast, getting dressed/ready, watching something unimportant on YouTube and then sitting down at my desk to work. I realised that, because I am not a morning person, and often feel tired when I wake up, I ‘distract’ myself with YouTube and other stuff. Though, instead of it waking me up, it actually just numbs me out and makes me feel more tired and meh. What if I, instead of distracting myself, stayed mindful and focused on one thing at a time (like I did during the retreat)? The last two days I got up, wrote my morning pages, meditated for a bit (which I usually don't feel I 'have time' for - cos I usually spend that time watching YouTube stuff!), made breakfast and ate breakfast (without doing anything else!) and still had like 20 minutes to drink (AND enjoy!) my cup of coffee. It still took the usual 2 hours but do you know what? I actually felt awake, peaceful, spacious and joyful instead of argh!! That’s what makes the difference.
If you are still pondering over the ‘giving yourself permission to do self-care’ - I hear you! It’s not something that happens overnight and it’s something that I actively work on every day. I work on giving myself permission to just do one thing at a time, because that feels good to me. I work on taking Sundays off from work to allow myself to do whatever I want to do (even if that is doing absolutely nothing!). I work on sending myself loving kindness and well wishes during my meditation practice and for it to feel natural and genuine, rather than something my meditation teacher told me to do. I actually felt this very strongly during the retreat; I felt genuinely ok with sending myself loving kindness and well wishes first, before sending it to others. I usually do it the other way around. But do you know what? If I am not well, then there is nothing to send to anyone else. Same goes for you. So self-care if absolutely vital and necessary. But, it is actually also quite nice to care for yourself. It can feel really good to do something for yourself that you know you love and really enjoy. Why should you not be allowed to give yourself gifts like going on a retreat or taking time to do nothing? If that’s what you want and need - then that’s what you should do.