First off, I am happy to report that since my MBSR class ended in mid-April, I have faithfully grown my practice through daily meditations and mindful yoga. I was really worried I was gonna fall off the wagon without the group meetings and support. I will admit – it can be tough to relate your experience to friends and family who are unfamiliar with meditating. Before I took the class, I thought of meditation as a hippy-dippy new-agey practice that was not to be trusted. Some people mistake mindfulness for a religion and act weirded out that I’ve suddenly become a Buddhist or a Hindu (FYI: mindfulness is 100% non-religious and thus can be adapted to any (or lack of) belief system).
Anyways, I have been trying to find ways to connect with other mindfulness practitioners. I have met some on this blog, but I don’t know any in real life other than my MBSR instructor, Dr. Mike. The last time I saw him, he suggested I attend a full day of mindfulness retreat he was hosting one Saturday at the Mind Body Institute. So, thinking I could maybe meet some other meditators, I signed up. I was also curious what a full day of meditation would be like … the Southern Dharma Retreat Center up in the North Carolina mountains puts on many great multi-day retreats throughout the year. They run a couple hundred dollars a weekend though … so a day of mindfulness in Athens would be a good way to test the waters before I made such a big commitment.
I arrived early, and a few others were already in the room sitting quietly. We would spend the whole day either in this room or outside on the porch. People of all different walks of life filtered in – even a few youngun’s like me! I was pleased to see a lot of diversity. Once everyone had arrived, Dr. Mike announced we would be spending the whole day, including lunch, in silence. He also cautioned that we should not make eye contact with anyone, as this is a form of communication. We were to spend the whole day resting inside ourselves. At first I found this strange, but an hour in I totally understood.
We spent the morning moving through all different types of meditations, each one lasting 45 minutes or so. We began with awareness of breath, just being with the breath. Then we moved into some gentle yoga, followed by a mountain meditation. The mountain meditation was really cool. Basically, you are called to visualize a mountain, and then you conceptualize yourself as the mountain. The speaker talks you through all of the seasons on the mountain, and you experience being still and unchanging through all the chaos. Of course, I really enjoyed thinking about a mountain and the forest 🙂 Afterwards, went straight into a typical mindfulness meditation of choiceless awareness. The we did some walking meditations. Then, lunch time!
For lunch I went outside and sat in the grass, mindfully eating my trail mix and fruit. It was such a glorious day, and I felt pure joy. After lunch we did some more yoga, a body scan, another mindfulness meditation, an open eyed nature meditation, then ended with loving kindness. There were many short walking meditations interspersed to keep us engaged. Everyone stuck around for half an hour or so after the retreat was over to chat about their experiences. I didn’t really connect with anyone, but I did enjoy the retreat nonetheless.
I wish I could say I made it through the whole day without getting anxious, but there were a lot of restless moments. The hardest part for me was spending a whole day sitting/ laying in one place, and being confined to one room. Sure, we did some walking and went outside a couple times, but this wasn’t enough activity for me. Of course I loved the yoga – I think if there were more of that I would have stayed much more engaged.
Still, it was a very rich and powerful experience to be in silence with yourself all day. I have been working hard on non-identification with my thoughts, and was able to practice this all day. So much time in meditation also helped me lighten up. Sometimes I can be almost militant with my one-pointedness that I’m “muscling” my concentration instead of easing into spaciousness. I don’t have a lot of time for my practice everyday, as I can usually only fit in 15 minutes or so sitting meditation. Having more time helped me open up and find lots of ease in my awareness.
I would do it again if it was more focused on yoga or included more time outside, doing daily chores, walking, etc. Personally, I only get so much out of sitting in a room. I love my daily sitting practice because its a nice break from the craziness;but dedicating a full day to sitting? Just not my style. That’s the beautiful thing about practicing mindfulness – it is what YOU make it.