I tried something new with my most recent vacation. I planned to spend seven days in Portland, visiting a friend, riding bikes, eating artisanal donuts and drinking craft beers. But I divided this week into two, and in the middle, spent an entire week at a silent retreat.
The basic idea of a silent retreat is to see how quiet the mind can get when you stop feeding it entertainment, conversation, and daydreams. Instead, you notice what’s happening inside you and around you, and come back to that when you get distracted.
Essentially you are meditating in some posture or another—either sitting, walking, eating or going to the bathroom—for the sixteen hours each day that you’re not sleeping.
It’s hard to convey just how aware a person becomes after spending more than 100 hours in meditation over seven days. The world becomes incredibly quiet and simple. You can hear eight different sounds at once, and never lose track of what direction each is coming from.
At first you’re mostly noticing the obvious things: bird songs, the breeze, the weight of doors you use, the feeling of your clothes, the creaking of floors. But then you start to notice subtler phenomena.
Your thoughts really slow down, and at a certain point become obvious, like somebody saying something in a quiet room. The mind becomes so quiet that you notice the tiniest ripples in your feelings. Our experience is full of some very subtle feedback that normally gets drowned out—tiny gut feelings, emotional residue from thoughts about certain topics, faint attractions or aversions to tiny details like the way your food is sitting on your plate. Read More