I have been asked how my very first retreat – the city retreat of Vipassana meditation – went two weeks ago but so far didn’t really have a chance to share my impressions with those interested. Saying “It went well” is saying nothing. I bet each of the about 40 people that shared those two days with me have different things to say.
I knew it was supposed to be a silence retreat but that didn’t bother me. On the contrary, I was looking forward to two days of almost complete silence. I had already discovered that talking is overrated (just like thinking!) and that we often use speech in unskilful ways, to fill the air with noise.
Part of this is due to social games we play, asking questions not to hear answers but to signal to the other person we know she is there. Also I think it is our own insecurity talking out of fear of having to listen inwards when we don’t have anything outside ourselves to listen to.
I was mostly curious about how the whole silence thing would work practically: if I wanted a glass of water I would have to ask someone to direct me to the right place to get one. Wouldn’t it feel stupid going around gesturing and rolling one’s eyes? As soon as I saw how well our inhouse managers took care of every practical detail I forgot that concern and concentrated on the actual being.
It felt neither strange nor uncomfortable to share a meal with strangers in complete silence. After all, this is what we often do when we find ourselves surrounded by strangers – keep us to ourselves. Not having to worry to be taken for a mad person or how I would appear to the others I took my time to observe and enjoy the sight of the dish in front of me, the variety of colors and flavors coming from the plate. Being in tune with my body I suddenly noticed I was already getting a sensation of becoming full just by looking at the food!
Picking up a floret of broccoli and taking it into the mouth, I noticed how the tastes first exploded and then subsided and died. I felt the texture of tender-crispy broccoli against the softness of the palate and could feel the response both from the body and mind to that taste adventure, without getting into the thinking and story creating mode. It was quite unusual to make an actual experience of eating the focus of my full and undivided attention but at the same time it was easier when I had no TV, newspapers or a colleague competing for the attention. I gave the chatty and inquisitive mind the task to simply observe everything that was happening including itself (I guess this is what Eckhart Tolle calls “the witnessing presence”). I was not loving it or hating it, I was not thinking about it. There was a sense of presence in the Now that brought with it a sensation of inner peace. Suddenly I knew what being alive felt like.
One of the verses of Hsin Hsin Ming – On the Faith of Mind – reads:
The more you talk and think about it,
the further astray you wander from the truth.
Stop talking and thinking
and there is nothing you will not be able to know.