Image from Haundreis.
There was no blog from me last week because I was on a silent retreat with no phone, computer, reading, writing or speaking allowed. It’s very much the antithesis to the average working day – you’re almost completely free of distractions.
A lot of people imagine the silence to be unpleasant or difficult, but in fact it’s very calming and most people soon enjoy the peace of not speaking. One of the main reasons for doing this is to create better conditions for observing your inner experience. Often if we feel bored, sad, anxious or restless, we deliberately distract ourselves. Without that possibility, you have to face in to your thoughts and emotions.
Pascal once said, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” By continually running from our uncomfortable thoughts and emotions we avoid having to overcome them, and thereby let go of them, so we drag them around like a ball and chain. The problem isn’t the discomfort, it’s the unwillingness to confront it.
Often we’re convinced that the way out of the discontent is to change something: fix our relationship, get a new job, tick ten more off the to-do list, and this keeps us trying to run faster in the hamster wheel, not realising that the answer is to just stop running, and be content with where we are now.
The teacher on the retreat pointed out that so often when we get the thing that we longed for, we’re still not happy. He said that the deepest form of happiness arises when we let go of wanting something that we we’re not experiencing, or not wanting something that we are. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing something as mundane as feeling your breath coming in and out, when you let all of that craving and aversion fall away, a blissful serenity, which is the natural state of the settled mind, appears, like the blue sky when the clouds part.
I had some short periods of time on the retreat when I tasted this – when there were no thoughts, I was very still and all there was in my experience was the physical sensations in my body, I felt content. I didn’t need to achieve any career goals or get a thousand likes on Facebook in order to make that possible.
I also noticed how my mind sabotages my happiness, exactly as he said. I’d be sitting there in meditation thinking, “It can’t be long now until I get my porridge!” Or “How much more of this exercise until lunchtime?” While craving the instant gratification of eating I wasn’t enjoying those what I was actually meant to be doing.
As there wasn’t much else to do, I really took time over my meal, eating with my eyes closed and trying to really appreciate all the flavours, smells and textures of my food.
But although I had obtained the object of my craving, at least half of the time I wasn’t even paying attention to it. I was thinking about where I might go for a walk, what to do when I got home or whether I should get back in touch with my ex-girlfriend.
What a dirty trick of the mind to make you think that getting something will make you happy, and then when you get it tells you you need something different!
I also noticed, though, that as the retreat went on, my mind became quieter, and I felt gradually less impatient and restless and more content.
The big lesson for me was not that meditation makes you happy, but that being completely
absorbed in what you’re doing, whether it’s delivering a presentation, doing your taxes, painting a wall or dancing the hokey cokey, is where real satisifaction is to be found. It’s hard to let go though, of the nagging feeling, that this experience, right now, is not enough…