Last week, I embarked on a six-day, silent meditation retreat for people of color at the Insight Meditation Society in the sleepy, forest town of Barre, MA. Now, you’re probably getting the image of a bunch of natural hair folk wearing yoga pants with a little 1990s Erykah Badu stee-lo here and there, sitting around meditating all day. Well I’m here to tell you … that’s pretty much how it looked but, as with all things, there was more to the experience than meets the eye. I’m new to meditation (and in my head a lot already so the thought of silence for more thoughts to take over scared me), but making time for this experience has been one of my best decisions ever.
The silent meditation retreat was six days of 5am rise, 9:30pm sleep, alternating between sitting and walking meditation for 30 to 45 minutes at a time. We had three vegetarian meals a day, a guided meditation in the morning and a nightly talk given by one of the meditation teachers (including a fly Jamaican woman, Gina Sharpe, and the first African Buddhist monk, Bhante Bhudarakkhita from Uganda). We maintained “Noble Silence,” which of course meant no gadgets, no social media, no TV, and no news. We were also advised not to read or write in a journal extensively or at all. And you weren’t supposed to harm anyone or anything, not even a bug. It’s just you, your breath, your thoughts, and the quiet.
The main practice was to be mindful. Mindful of what you’re thinking and what your body is doing, and getting to notice how they both behave—and then hopefully getting to the core of why they’re behaving that way. It’s crazy the things you begin noticing when you stop busying yourself and really pay attention to what you’re doing. I noticed I have a lot (a whole lotta lot) of opinions on everything and everybody, including a lot of harsh judgments toward myself, the majority of which I’ve come to see as completely unnecessary and a waste of energy.
Another core retreat teaching is not to cling to things, good or bad, because everything is constantly changing and it is when we try to hold on to a certain feeling, image or idea that’s naturally going to change that we create unnecessary disappointment and suffering. It is when we release expectation that we can open ourselves to all possibilities and spare ourselves some stress.
While making a six-day getaway to sit, walk and eat in silence isn’t for everybody (for those who are a little curious, many of these retreats can actually be really affordable and accessible), even giving yourself five or ten minutes at some point in the day to sit still and listen to your breath can do a lot. That was the most mind-blowing and empowering part of it, taking time to acknowledge the thing that keeps you alive, which is also the one thing your mind doesn’t have to think about doing. It’s proof that you have a purpose and, like your breath, shouldn’t second-guess being on this earth.
So get you some meditation. I’m planning to stick with it. And in terms of what else there is to be discovered, I’ll let Bilal’s “All Matter” tell the rest: