Okay, you might wonder what's up with this title? What is she talking about? Well, let me start by saying that once you finished reading about my recent experience at a 5-day semi-silent retreat, you will understand it 😉.
The retreat was called "Insight Meditation - The Direct Path to Liberation" and was led by three remarkable teachers, Neesha Patel, Victoria Cary, and Will Kabat-Zinn, through Spirit Rock. While preparing for my retreat, I imagined it to be in-person. So, I arranged our guest room to be my room for the next five days, planned dinner for the family ahead, and turned off my phone. I informed my family only to speak when necessary and limited my interactions to the mornings and saying goodnight in the evenings. These arrangements allowed me to get the insight I received during this retreat which I'll get to later.
For those who have never attended a silent retreat, most of your time, you'll be meditating in a group, and by yourself, you will be participating in mindful walking and eating, dharma talks, and excluding any journaling, reading, or any outside information; not a typical vacation. There are different reasons why someone would attend retreats. I intended to deepen my practice.
These retreats will do, no matter your intention, give you an idea of what experiences you usually try to avoid, such as boredom, restlessness, tiredness, distress, busy and discomforting thoughts, unpleasant emotions, and probably a few more. The only thing you can do while being with these encounters is to be with them. The concept of meditation is to observe and notice what is happening without reacting to them. The same goes for those itches that come up. The moment we stay with the experience of it arising, we notice where it itches, the sensation of it, and without scratching, it's gone. There are many other examples; your tummy begins to growl, and hunger arises. You know you can't get up right now and eat, so you stay in your seat and wait. The next moment, a thought arises, and your hunger disappears. Why am I telling you this?
During this retreat, I realized that if we can't resist a scratch and keep observing it until the next best thing takes our attention, how will we ever respond to a situation of anger, frustration, sadness without reacting. All the teachings around emotional regulations are by recognizing what we are feeling. When we practice meditation, we allow all emotions, sensations, and other awareness to come up without immediate reaction but a sense of acknowledgment. We practice how to respond in a difficult situation with what is happening in the present moment, not what we think.
Next time you notice an itch, see what happens when you resist scratching and instead just observe how it comes up and most likely disappears. The one thought I have is that it just feels good to scratch that itch, the instant relief and instant gratification we receive. The phenomenon of instant gratification we will discuss in my next post.