Meditation affords us the opportunity to find inner peace amid our often hectic daily lives. By clearing the mind and practicing mindfulness (a term we'll explore more later), we can calm the swirling tides of our thoughts and emotions and see things more clearly. However, meditation can seem daunting. It takes practice to be able to tame a mind that is so used to having free rein all the time. This level of mastery is difficult to achieve with a few sporadic meditation sessions sprinkled throughout the week. That's where Spirit Rock comes in. Sprawled among the woodlands of Marin County, Spirit Rock offers immersive meditation retreats designed to deepen your personal meditation practice by combining the teachings of Buddha, insight meditation, and loving-kindness meditation.
Not one to do things with anything less than full effort, our very own Billy Polson, as well as a long time DIAKADI client Gary Loeb, were able to attend a full 5-day silent meditation retreat. We interviewed both of them to get a sense of what they experienced.
DIAKADI: What was your meditation practice before going into this 5-day retreat?
Billy Polson: I didn't have a meditation practice! I tried daily practice with minimal results, but I wanted to understand the full immersive experience in order to get the value of meditation. I did try using an excellent book called Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life, which was incredibly similar to Spirit Rock's style of teaching, but I ran into trouble keeping a consistent practice.
Gary Loeb: I didn't have a regular mediation practice before , and if I was able to meditate it was extremely limited. However, when I did have time I would use an app that I had on my phone called headspace. The app is really cool because it guides you through short mediation sessions that last about 15 - 20 min, so for me this worked out...If I was consistent.
D: Can you tell us a bit about your experience overall?
BP: It took the first two days to really get into the groove. Then there was a honeymoon period in the middle where I thought "yeah, I can do this!". You begin having sessions where you are able to truly find your breath and maintain your present focus. Then, my brain started telling me "you've mastered this and you can get out of here". Then the last day was REALLY difficult; your ego begins to talk you out of enjoying the process. By the time of my departure, my brain was truly ready for a break from the practice. Then, once you’re done and away from the property, you realize what an incredibly different calm both your mind and body have found. Colors are brighter, sounds are louder, experiences are far more intense. Meditation can be truly powerful and healthy for your body and mind, if you can successfully incorporate it into your life.
GL: Overall my experience was pretty extreme on both sides. Truly blissed out moments interwoven with the complexities of the mind monkey where even the littlest hiccup in my day would just get on my last nerve. It was such an interesting process of finding connection with the body in moments of internal turmoil and complete distraction. Once I began to recognize the root of the distraction, I was able to investigate the feeling and sit through it in a balanced and non judgmental space.
D: Walk us through a typical day of the retreat.
BP: Wake up around 5am. No speaking at all, no cellphones, no electronics. Sat in first meditation for about an hour (this was seated). Then some quiet walking slow moving meditation for another hour. It alternated like that: seated an hour, walking an hour, seated an hour until lunch. Then after lunch we were back at it -- seated, yoga, seated, walking, seated, dinner, seated, bed. We also had work detail and I was the dishwasher, so after meals I did that with a partner that I never spoke with or even knew her name.
GL: For it being a meditation retreat we were awfully busy. Most days started between 5am - 6am and you were solidly booked with the days activities until around 9:30 pm. There was a general expectation that you will show up to everything...but they had this thing "Be your own best friend". I think that everyone takes that a little differently. I took is as, if I needed to skip a session and do something else I could. I began to create a space for myself to rest in between the sessions to either write, take a walk and even just a minute to myself without direction.
D: In one sentence, what does "mindfulness" mean to you?
BP: Not thinking about what happened in the past and what’s going to happen in the future and being 100% present in this very moment.
GL: Being present in the moment and allowing life to happen, no matter how unorganized it can be.
D: What was it like re-entering the speaking world after your retreat?
BP: It was right after the retreat that I had the realization that it was really intense. After checking out, I drove to a local grocery store. Walking down aisle, I was overwhelmed by the color and the over stimulation of what the store felt like. It felt like I was high. It was a different reality from the one I was used to where my mind was usually in racing mode.
GL: Re-entering after the retreat was a bit scary. I had no idea what it would be like or how I would respond. The next morning I went to breakfast, I was so chatty and blissed out that it surprised me. I had created the space to have a present and authentic conversation without distraction with my partner. The stimulation of being in public was invigorating and slightly overwhelming all at the same time.
D: Who would you recommend this type of retreat for?
BP: It's certainly not for everyone, but it can be powerful and useful for anyone who feels like they need to quiet their brain and wants to be successful at meditation. My takeaway was in meetings and stressful situations, being able to be mindful, present, and breathe. Being in the moment.
GL: I would recommend this to anyone who is looking for the clarity, awareness and a sense of calm in the heat of the moment.
And there you have it! If you're looking to dive deeper into your meditation practice, consider one of the many programs at Spirit Rock. It doesn't matter how you do it - meditation provides you with unbeatable benefits like reducing stress, improving focus, and bringing clarity of thought and can be part of anyone's healthy lifestyle.