In my last post, I briefly touched on the news that I’ve been attending mindfulness meditation workshops over the last several weeks. When I began the workshops, the goal was for me to find new strategies for coping with the physical pain and mental anguish that have become rather routine since my surgery. Last Saturday, the group was given the option of a mindfulness “retreat.” It was held in the same building we always meet in, but with a mindful walk planned as part of the day’s activities.
It was a dreary, rainy Saturday, and I knew attending the retreat would mean I would miss at least the first half of Arsenal’s match against Liverpool, but I decided to go. The instruction sheet that we received at the beginning of the day had a poem written at the top: Quietly, by itself / The bamboo shoot / Becomes bamboo. The instruction sheet also noted that most of what we would be doing through the retreat would be done in “noble silence.” That meant not only not talking to each other, but also not gesturing or making direct eye contact with each other.
After settling in and having some tea and/or water, we watched Oprah interview with the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, Thích Nhất Hạnh. Of everything he said, what stuck most in my mind was the concept that there could be no happiness without suffering. I suppose it’s true, but I’ve always had a problem with people saying it. It just feels as though most of the people who say there would be no happiness without suffering haven’t really had much shit to deal with in their lives. But that’s just my read on it.
At the end of the video, we bundled up and went for a walk in a nearby park. We spent about 45 minutes wandering the park, with each person free to move about in his or her own way. I’ve passed by the park many times but never really slowed down or looked closely enough to appreciate all that it holds. There’s a cool tree stump that’s been shaped into a seat. There’s a flowerbed that holds white and purple plants that look like cabbages. I found an empty bird’s nest that had fallen from a tree and marveled at how well constructed it was. I admired the raindrops that clung to the barren tree branches. I came across lots of dog poop, but because I was walking mindfully, I didn’t step in any of it. I normally walk at a brisk pace and have my headphones in my ears, so this mindful walk was a nice deviation from my usual movement. At times I wished I brought my camera to capture some interesting shots, but then I remembered that would, in a way, defeat the purpose of living and walking and exploring in the moment.
We returned from our walk and had a mindful lunch. I had to avoid a few of the items on offer out of fear my bowels wouldn’t be able to handle them, but I did enjoy my little meal. I ate slowly and mindfully, taking note of how the white bread, cheddar cheese, sliced ham, and mixed green salad with balsamic vinaigrette felt on my tongue and between my teeth. I breathed in the scent of the ginger snaps that were offered for desert, and took note of their crunchiness as I chewed them. What I liked most about the lunch was that it was done in silence. No one had to make banal small talk or comment on what tasted good. There was a real calm and peace about the meal, something I rarely experience when I eat.
We broke our noble silence soon after lunch, while practicing mindful listening. In this exercise, one person would tell me about something that he/she was suffering from, and instead of making comments or suggestions, I would just listen, and we’d sit there in silence and let the problem just sort of hang there between us. Then I’d tell the person about something I was suffering from, and again we’d let it sit. It was a really interesting exercise, because so often when I’ve told people about what’s troubling me, I’ve received some sort of verbal response. While those responses are generally appreciated, sometimes all I really need is someone to listen and do nothing more. As our mindfulness instructor phrased it, “a soft landing.”
After the mindful listening exercise, we wrote letters to ourselves while trying to maintain a compassionate and caring mindset. I’m usually pretty hard on myself, so telling myself that I’m a pretty good guy was a welcome activity.
We wrapped up the retreat with some quiet meditation and then a group discussion about what we thought about the day. One person accurately noted that the generally positive feelings put forward by the group made all of the activities more enriching, and that practicing mindfulness at home, alone, doesn’t seem to create the same effect. That really rung true for me, as I’ve usually left the group workshops feeling good, but rarely had that same feeling after practicing on my own at home.
Above all, I enjoyed the silence of the day. I enjoyed eating in silence, sitting in silence, and being around people without the need to make the banal chit chat. I enjoyed not having someone give me advice that is unwarranted, unwelcome, and ultimately, unhelpful. I enjoyed being with my own thoughts and no one else’s.
The retreat was a lot of fun, and when I returned home, I got to see Aaron Ramsey wire a sweet strike past Simon Mignolet to make it 2-0 to The Arsenal, which ended up being the final score. I wasn’t quite so silent when the ball hit the back of the net, but I would like to make more quiet time for myself going forward, so I can enjoy more moments that are free from the usual noise in my life.
Image via Free great picture