I’ve lost my marble
I was not expecting to have my heart broken while on a meditation retreat, but as soon as I took that phonecall, the cracks began to appear. And now it’s slowly shattering into pieces before my eyes.
I’ve just lost one of my favourite humans on this planet.
The first day was utter shock, the second day I watered the fields of Menorca with my tears and today I’m just feeling sorrowfully helpless.
The guests have all arrived and today is the start of a week-long silent retreat at the International Retreat Centre in Menorca. So out of both respect and out of choice, I’m taking a vow of silence to deal with my busy head and heavy heart.
For the next five days, I won’t be uttering a word, not even to myself and all digital devices will be firmly switched off.
In real life, the life I left behind, I was surrounded by noise – we all are. Chatter in the office, gossip at the bus stop, roaring engines, the vigorous tapping of computer keyboards, the humming of printers, whiny voices on TV, beats blasting out of the radio, barking dogs, beeping horns and yelling neighbours.
Then there’s our digital world… WhatsApp group chat notifications by the minute if not the second, Facebook likes, Tweets, emails, text messages, Bumble matches, friend requests, news bulletins, weather forecasts, personalised playlists and recommended Ted Talks – we’re literally being pelted with digital distractions. It’s a communication-burnout that a lot of us feel in our 24/7 high-speed world.
But we often forget there’s also the bedlam of our minds.
Do they ever switch off? Even when I’m sleeping I seem have a thousand thoughts a minute. If I’m not paying attention to something my eyes have seen, something my ears have heard or something my nose has smelt, I’m mentally adding bullet points to my never-ending to do list or coming up with an idea that I must remember to pursue.
It never seems to stop.
Be Silent, Be Still
Yesterday evening we had the introductory meditation with Gen Kelsang Tharpa our teacher for the week, who happens to be the teacher I saw speak at Liverpool St George’s Hall back in April, and was the very first blog I ever posted.
Although I sat there at the back of the room, quietly sobbing the uncontrollable tears of grief, I did hear what he said:
On retreat we stop all forms of business and extraneous activities in order to emphasise a particular spiritual practice. There are three kinds of retreat: physical, verbal, and mental.
We engage in physical retreat when, with a spiritual motivation, we isolate ourselves from other people, activities, and noise, and disengage from extraneous and meaningless actions.
We engage in verbal retreat when, with a spiritual motivation, we refrain from meaningless talk and periodically keep silence.
We engage in mental retreat by preventing distractions and strong delusions such as attachment, anger, jealousy, and strong ignorance from arising, and by maintaining mindfulness and conscientiousness.
Benefits of a Silent Retreat
There are so many noted benefits of taking a break from talking as we’re taking the energy we usually use for external communication and channelling it inward.
First of all there’s the physical; giving your vocal chords and ear drums a rest. I’ve read somewhere women utter an average of twenty-thousand words per day and men seven thousands, which sounds about right. So there’s twenty thousand little bursts of energy that we can use to focus on what’s going on inside.
Then with that inward focus, we learn to acknowledge and process even our most uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. This brings stress tolerance and emotional balance. Allowing our thoughts to flow without disturbance can also provide an entirely new perspective on major life changes. It can remove the pressure of outside influences, allowing us to examine what really brings joy and meaning to our life.
And then there’s the mental stillness. According to many sources, it takes around twenty-four hours of non verbals to silence the monkey brain. The monkey brain is a common term for how our thoughts swing from one to the other like monkeys swing from branch to branch. And when we manage to master the art of mental stillness, it brings about a state of calm that we’ve never quite experienced before.
I was expecting to go into this with the aim of processing all of my ego-centred thoughts – me and my life, where am I going, what am I going to do, what makes me happy. But none of that seems to matter right now.
His name is the first word that pops into my head when I wake up in the morning , his face is the only thing I see when I close my eyes and my body is aching with the agony of grief. And although I would love nothing more than a never-ending bear hug or somebody’s armpit to cry into, I’m just hoping that in this moment, this is the best place for me to just let it all be.