Updated: Dec 28, 2019
It is hard to put into words my experience of the past 6 days silent meditation and yoga retreat. This surprises me as this was my 3rd sesshin organised by Maitri Retreats and Hamid Ebadi.
I met Hamid 3 years ago when completing my yoga teacher training in Canggu, Bali. Hamid was my meditation teacher and I began speaking to him via Skype sessions on a weekly basis and have done so ever since. This is where my spiritual journey or just ‘ journey’ began.
My first silent retreat was in Gisborne, Victoria in Melbourne. The idea of staying silent for such a long period of time humoured me and terrified me at the same time. Nevertheless, I went with a semi-open mind and an open heart. Those days felt like the longest I’ve experienced, the first bell rang at the crack of dawn at 4:30 am and I of course wasn’t very happy about this. The weather was miserable, it rained, it was cold, I was cold and it was dark but we sat in doors with blankets and meditated for 2 hour periods at a time. Watching the sun begin to rise overlooking the city of Melbourne and the life being lit up was magical. My mind however was not so peaceful. My knees hurt and I couldn’t focus, I kept falling asleep too and didn’t know how I would get through those days not just with no verbal communication but no communication on my phone. My anxiety was sky high and I wasn’t able to keep silent, I tried but it was too uncomfortable.
My second experience was similar but very different. This took place in the mountains of Portugal in Monchique. The weather was as well, miserable, cold, dark, cloudy and we were completely secluded. I paint a dark picture, however this environment so clearly reflected my state of mind at that time. I managed to keep my phone off for the week but my mind and my thoughts took over, I connected with them, I followed their story and became part of them. This of course brought me great suffering. However, Hamid offered me his full support and words of kindness and care and I was assisted back onto a more peaceful level.
Comparing this to the retreat in Australia my practiced had progressed so I could sit still without falling asleep, without fidgeting too much and without talking at all. However my mind was not silent. But I battled through the challenge and slowly slowly I noticed it was all my thoughts and I wasn’t stuck in this state. I then experienced happier moments, moments of clarity and when the retreat finished I felt a total cleansing of mind and body. Accepting that there will be moments of clarity, moments of anger, frustration, elevation and chaos is an important focal point for zazen practice.
Comparing both of those experiences to this 3rd Sesshin in India, I can so clearly see how much I have grown and how my meditation practice has progressed over the past 3 years. Hamid has encouraged this progression with his subtle teachings, unforced and slowly voiced words of support and wisdom. It is a process that cannot be forced. I used to think it was just about sitting still and trying not to think and focusing on the mind without consideration of the body. It is so much more than this, this is what I’ve learnt over the past 6 days. The posture, the precise point of which the sit bone is being positioned on the cushion, the lengthening of the spine and the eye lids kept half open for observation. The connection of the finger tips, not too loosely held but not too tightly gripped, almost an art. A position to be respected. This practice is about connecting the mind and the body. Hamid has helped teach me, this practice doesn’t judge, this practice has a lifeline of highs and lows, both in an emotional sense and with the flow of our thoughts. We observe these thoughts, we don’t resist, we don’t follow the story we simply acknowledge and then come back to our breath, our body, our posture and our seat. I wouldn’t say this all Hamid’s work, without his students there would be no process, it is by working together interdependence asserts itself. It is also with thanks to the hosts at the Banyan Tree Yoga Resort, we slept in a beautiful oasis, we showered outside in with sky waking up and falling asleep in front of us. We were fed, nourished and watered witty so much thought and love. I couldn’t think of a more ‘perfect’ place to hold such a delicate practice. The Banyan Tree created a cosy, homelike environment for us to totally relax and indulge in.
I would recommend this retreat experience to anyone and everyone, it only requires an open mind and of course, an open heart. As Hamid has taught me, it isn’t about achieving a higher state of being on such a retreat, the goal is in the small things that we so often miss, it is in the sitting itself. From this zazen retreat I have learnt to accept my flaws as they are, I am not to be perfect, if I can accept negatives as well as positives, the internal battle and suffering will soon fade. Of course I will still have moments of suffering, but these, in time, will fade as I continue with my practice of sitting. For it we are perfect, we are unrelatable. There is no fear in the present moment, just the present moment itself. Hamid also taught me the 3 focuses in Buddhist beliefs: to practice kindness always, to have an open mind and to avoid doing harm to others.
What Hamid has given me with his presence, words and support is a gift I feel eternally grateful to have received. I wish to share this gift to you all and if reading this does so, I am happy.