Lessons from a meditation retreat




This weekend I had the luxury of spending a day at a meditation retreat. This was a new experience for me, I went alone and I did not know anybody there so I was a little apprehensive. When I first walked in and saw the meditation cushions on the floor my first thought was that I would never be able to sit on a cushion for a whole day. Thankfully everyone there had the same thought and we all opted to sit on chairs (phew!).

From the moment that I walked into the room I felt relaxed, my shoulders lowered a little and I soaked up the peaceful atmosphere. Everyone was there for a break from daily life, for retreat. Everyone remained quiet most of the day with little need for small talk. This is very new for me as someone who feels compelled to fill every silence with nervous babble. Before long I felt comfortable just sitting in companionable silence (no need for nervous rambling after all).

So I learned many lessons from the retreat. First, just because we are meditating does not mean we have to sit in an uncomfortable lotus position and second, I will not explode if I sit quietly with another person without talking. From David, the excellent meditation teacher I learned the principles of Anapanasati Sutta (the awareness of breathing) and I will talk about this in a later blog. My most important and valuable lesson from the day came from a passing comment from the mediation teacher during his introduction to the day. As we all settled down to begin the retreat he advised us that “if we had any expectations for day, we should leave them at the door as they will only get in the way of our experience”.

At first I was a little disgruntled by this. After all if he didn’t want to know my objectives for the day, how would he ensure that the retreat met my needs? I consider myself a driven person. I set goals, creat a plan on how I will reach those goals and then systematically work towards them. I came to this retreat wanting insight and enlightenment. I wanted to observe his teaching style to inform my own practice of guiding mindful meditation with my patients. I wanted to spend time at the end evaluating how my expectations had been met.

After giving some thought to his comment I realised how right he was. I have let my expectations get in the way of many life experiences. When I go on holiday, I research the area, spend hours on-line working out an itinerary, I track the weather leading up to departure, discuss plans with friends and imagine how wonderful it is going to be . Inevitably, when I arrive on the holiday, if I have to deviate from the plan or something does not meet my expectations, my experience is somewhat dampened.

conversely I will spend sleepless nights expecting a busy day at work, a difficult organisational meeting or a nerve-racking interview and in reality, the experience is never as harrowing as anticipated and could have actually been enjoyable if not for my poor expectations (and lack of sleep).

So I am due to spend some time on the beautiful Dalmatian Coast in a few weeks and the plan is……………. there is no plan! I am not going to spend hours online or pour over guide books before we depart. I am simply going to turn up and experience the moment, no expectations.

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