(A Silent Meditation Retreat)
by Marly Pierre-Louis
Life is an art form, your mind is a mystery, master them both.I’m going to be honest with ya’ll. I hesitated to write this piece. It’s not that I didn’t want to share this incredible experience with my folks – I wasn’t trying to be secretive or mysterious about it. On the contrary. Upon returning from 10 days of silent meditation, I wanted to load up a bus with all of you, and go directly to Shelburne, Massachusetts to the meditation center. I struggled to find ways to put this experience into words that would not lead to you all recommending commitment to the psychiatric ward.
I didn’t know what to expect. I mean, I had done my research. I read every piece of information on the website and even read The Art of Living . I thought I knew it all, what the food would be (vegetarian), the schedule (up at 4 a.m., down at 9:30. p.m.), I knew not to bring anything and that I couldn’t speak to anyone. I was ready. My mother dropped me off and after jokingly asking if I was joining a cult and if I would be returning with a shaved head, I bid her adieu and walked into the center, unassuming and ready.
The center is in a secluded area, completed surrounded by trees, a natural sanctuary. The facility was simple and bare – there were no posters or paintings on the walls, no fancy lighting or decorations, no music playing, no TV’s, no stimulations. Since there would be no speaking, there was a bulletin board, where the days schedule changes and announcements were posted. Students are instructed to leave behind all external distractions – including reading and writing material, music, cell phones and all religious objects. Men and women are completely separated from each other. The rules are simple: dress modestly, observe.
The Code of Discipline was to remain silent. By silence, I mean all forms of communication, verbal and non-verbal, are discouraged. No eye contact, gesturing or smiling. Essentially, all outside stimulation was removed and I was left with the one thing I went there to become acquainted with…myself.
Vipassana, meaning “seeing things as they really are” is an ancient Indian mediation technique. According to Wikipedia , It is a way of mental purification through self observation and introspection. It focuses on the deep interconnection between mind and body, which can be experienced directly by disciplined attention to the physical sensations that form the life of the body, and that continuously interconnect and condition the life of the mind. The instructions are not esoteric or difficult, but basically involve retraining the mind to avoid its innate conditioned response to most stimuli. The purpose is to bring full awareness of the mind, body and all sensations and be fully present. This practice is thought to develop a deep, experiential understanding of the impermanence of all phenomena and also brings to the surface and dissolves deep-seated complexes and tensions. The Dhamma website describes the process as: One begins by observing the natural breath to concentrate the mind. With a sharpened awareness one proceeds to observe the changing nature of body and mind and experiences the universal truths of impermanence, suffering and egolessness. This truth-realization by direct experience is the process of purification.
Now, you may be asking yourself, if I was there, why is she using outside sources to describe this experience? Dear friends, if I had to describe what this experience was, it would sound something like: “It was some crazy, psychedelic, third dimension, Twilight Zone, intergalactic, mind altering stuff yo!” Not very articulate right?
At 8 p.m. on the first night, Noble Silence began. For 10 days, I meditated for 13 hours a day. Hour after hour, I worked to train the wild animal that was my mind, initially unable to stay focused on anything for more than two minutes. Meanwhile, my body also resisted. Sitting for two hours straight?! Oh heck no. My bones cracked, my back ached, and my knees creaked. There were times when I wanted to run – run far away from that place. It became painful, physically, mentally and emotionally draining.
Slowly, my mind sharpened, I became aware. My senses became extremely sensitive; the sun seemed brighter, the wind felt cooler, nature’s songs became clearer. The pain never went away but the realizations and surfacing truths were real and profound. I left with a sense of resolve and self-understanding that I didn’t know was possible, and I learned that self-work is the hardest but most important work I will ever do and a job that will never be fully completed.
I’ve left a lot of details of my experience out of this piece on purpose. For Vipasssana meditation to be successful, it must be experienced solely within the framework of one’s own body. Everything I felt and realized came from inside, therefore, I will refrain from sharing the details to avoid skewing anybody else’s experience and to avoid creating expectations and assumptions amongst readers. I will say that I strongly recommend this retreat to anyone interested in knowing themselves on a deeper level. Ten days may sound like a long time, but in the scheme of life, is it really? Trust and believe, the benefits will far exceed your expectations. The retreat is FREE (yea, for real) and is run exclusively on donations and volunteers. There are centers around the world and throughout the United States including Massachusetts, California, Maryland, Virginia and Michigan. Seriously people, the loss is minimum and the gains are life long.
Marly Pierre-Louis is a passionate promoter for social justice and equality worldwide. Weaned in Brooklyn, raised in Boston and now residing in Philadelphia, it’s no wonder Marly considers herself a vagabond. The funky fresh budget socialite spends most of her days beating the streets of Illadel. A passion for words, beats and laughter is why she joined the collective.
AFTERTHOUGHTS with Marly
I spoke with Marly a little more indepth about her experience at the meditation center. I asked her how the 10 day silent meditation retreat changed her life. She explained that it gave her a new perspective and outlook and allowed her to purge deep emotional pains and scars. Marly said that the most difficult part of her 10 day venture was the physical pain of just sitting in meditative posture for several hours. But what was even more tormenting were some of the visions, scary dreams, and unpleasant images that began to resurface from old experiences and life situations that she long forgotten or buried. Many times I was in a fight or flight mode, said Marly, meaning she just wanted to leave and not deal with her inner demons but there was no place to run and hide. (ie. self-medicate) She said she was forced to face them and deal with them, and ultimately let them pass. They will pass, she stated. “When we react to things, we create our own suffering and negativity and these negative reactions become a part of us. By facing them, instead of reacting, they will pass and you can let them go. It’s like a purging,” she expressed.
Each day the participants, ranging in age from 22 to 60 and of various nationalities, faiths, and backgrounds, received instruction and insight on how to meditate and what to expect. Duirng the whole 10 days, no talking was allowed, except briefly with the instructor and then only during specific periods.
Marly said that the lack of stimulation (no tv, no writng, no reading, no talking) allowed issues that were once a mystery to her to become clear and she was able to resolve them. Many people don’t know how to be happy, said Marly. While I was there I kept thinking of people I know that live in a cycle of misery. They react to their circumstances, cling to how things are or how they used to be, and don’t want to accept change. One of the biggest life principles that Marly learned is that life situations are ephemeral and transient, they are changing constantly and when we can accept and embrace that change there is no such thing as an unhappy situation, just an unhappy outlook or perspective. Things are going to happen, she said.
When we cling to how it was and our attachment to it, we become upset about something that changes and live with regrets. The meditation experience and teachings taught Marly that you can remain in a positive light most of the time, and consistent meditation provides you with the tools to do it.
Marly recommended the silent retreat for everyone, regardless of background or religious affiliation. In fact, while you are there you are prohibited from bringing any religious artificats.
The silent meditation will benefit both novice and advanced meditators, she said. Marly is planning to do an annual 10 day retreat and shorter 1-3 day retreats throughtout the year. Also, for beginners, you must stay the recommended 10 days to receive the full benefits.
Thank You Marly for sharing your experience with us Christian Meditators!
What do you think? Are you ready to embark on such an experience? What do you think about participating in a Silent Christian-based Meditation Retreat? Love to hear your thoughts,