That's where we can start :) I can't recommend enough the incredible value of gifting yourself the sacred space of a silent retreat.
Is it easy? NO! Is it worth it? An outstanding YES!
I wanted to share with you my experience, my insights and some of my AHA moments, as well as some of the struggles and challenges I felt along the way. Let's dive in!
I am a big believer in divine timing. Most retreats I go on, kind of just find me - and then they happen to just fit so perfectly in my schedule, like all the stars and planets are aligned just so that it can happen. And when it does, I book as I know it was meant to be. This is how I found this retreat. I remember seeing it advertised and having a little yearning in my heart to experience such space again, but the timing wasn't going to work well with my IVF. I was supposed to have had a transfer at this time, and fasting and trying to get pregnant are not the best of friends. But... this path didn't work out unfortunately and one of my first thoughts as I finally surrendered to that was - I MUST book onto that retreat! I felt like I had to be there. So, I booked, and soon I was dusting off my tent and my meditation beads and heading down the coast of Portugal to a piece of paradise known as Comporta.
I had visited the Comporta Yoga Shala once before to have a massage with a very wonderful body worker I had heard of named Igor. I was immediately drawn to its rustic charm, perfectly woven into its natural surroundings and the fluorescent green rice patties immediately in front that reminded me of being back in Bali. I knew one day I would return.
And there I was - barefoot in the hot silky sand, lugging my tent and way too many things I overpacked up a dune and into the bush to find my pitch for the long weekend. There is something I just love about putting up a tent alone. No one to argue with which way the poles go, no pressure, just calm and relaxed. I was filled with excitement and pure gratitude for having the opportunity to be here.
Once my beautiful home was assembled, I headed back down ready for the opening circle. We got to introduce ourselves briefly, share our names ( which I immediately forgot 98% of) and why we were there. I didn't share my full story, not intentionally, or even consciously, but my story just didn't come out at that moment. I thought about this later. Maybe it is a good sign that I am not letting my story - my very real struggle with infertility define me, nor do I want to be defined by it. Although, undeniably it does play a major role in my life. Everyone was there for a different reason. Some people were in a phase of transition - be it with work, with travel, or with relationships. Some were there because they felt burnt out with their daily responsibilities, and some were just there because they just love these retreats. Some had never even juice fasted before, so they were really in for a treat! No food, no talking, no phones. On the last day, one person did describe her experience, as a bit like a prison. LOL
After our welcome circle, our silence and our fasting began. We were even recommended to turn in our phones so as not to be tempted to switch them on. Smart! The juices were less than I am used to when doing a juice cleanse, we only had two what we call at my work "thinnies" a day, one for breakfast at 9 am and noon. Then there was a juicy shot at 4:30 pm and a soup at 7:00 pm. I have to admit when were times when I did feel really empty after the lunch juice and before the soup. Although the shot, surprisingly did quench the hunger a little, I definitely haven't been used to feeling so empty.
So why fasting you may ask? Well, if you think about it - fasting has always been associated with spiritual pursuits - almost every religion that I am aware of has some sort of fasting protocol at one time or another, even shamanic and earth-based faiths. When we are lighter in ourselves, not weighed down with food, not slowed down by digestion, there is a lot more space and clarity in our minds. Fasting is an ancient practice of cleansing the body and mind allowing for enhanced introspection and spiritual connection, making it an integral part of the transformative journey within the retreat.
Our daily schedule was pretty full, we meditated for 3 hours a day, which was spread into 1 hour sessions split up by some yoga, lectures and of course juice. But I still found there to be a lot of free time - to do, well... nothing. You weren't encouraged to read, but you could journal. Most people would lay out in the sun and absorb those sweet rays of light and energy, some of us took a little stroll into the pine forest, and there were also some horses nearby that I loved to go and sit with.
To be honest - I found the free time the hardest part. Sometimes time seemed to drag on on and on and the worse part of it - was that annoying voice inside my head that I was stuck with. I likened it one day, to going on holiday with an annoying, miserable friend. The one who just never shuts up! You find yourself thinking... OMG, please be quiet. Let's just sit here in peace, OK? Let's admire the birds flying across the rice fields - in peace and quiet. Hey! shhhhh... We're trying to meditate. Not now! But nooooo.. this friend just goes on and on, telling you all about that one time, and do you remember when, and OMG... look at that!... Oh and she's super critical too! She is never satisfied it seems. She loves to point out the flaws in things, she's always judging and comparing, and trying to ruin beautiful moments with her distrust and scepticism.
She also loves to create drama too. Ohhh... I wonder if they are a couple? Do you think they are fighting? Who does she think she is? She clearly doesn't like you - did you see the way she walked by you? tuuuut.
Yeah. That friend. She was with me, almost every step of the way. Sometimes I was able to shrug her off, but she was clingy. This is what people find the most challenging part of silence - being with ourselves. Because, well, to be honest, we can drive ourselves crazy! But I now know, and I was also reminded that this voice wasn't me. Nooo. This voice was unkind, bitchy even, and sometimes just plain ol' miserable. That's not how I was really feeling. I was really quite happy, content and peaceful. Sometimes - especially during or just after the mediation - I would even be in a state of complete bliss.
But yet, sometimes her stories would arouse me and I would believe them for a little while. Just like we do get aroused and influenced by our friends, but that was the beautiful insight that I had on this retreat. That, just like I would still love that annoying friend in real life- because let's face it, they have been with me through thick and thin, they know me better than anyone else - then I can find love and acceptance for this part of me too, for that part of my mind whom I am not so comfortable with - nor do I want to be like her. But I can still coexist with her peacefully, and remember she is who she is, but that is not who I AM.
That's SUPER important! Because when we are not aware of this separation, we merge with that part of ourselves. That part that is not yet awakened or mature. We believe all their stories and we get peer pressured into doing reckless or out-of-character things - even when it is not really our true intent, nor our true nature. We can be pushed around, and even bullied. We can become weak and give in to temptations that are not in our best interests. And often, she can even be mean and hypercritical of you! We become driven by a part of ourselves that is not who we truly are.
This type of retreat creates the exact space needed to get to know what is your mind - your ego - and what is your true essence - your soul - your highest self. It allows you to see them as separate AND most importantly - the more you become aware of this, the more you can help transform the ego. Some call it transcend, but I think of it more like transformation.
For instance, now that I am aware of how my mind - my 'friend' can sometimes be negative, judgy, and not so kind - I can now stand up to her! I can challenge her stories and ask - is this really true? I can investigate where her beliefs come from and try to resolve the root of it. And when she is interrupting a peaceful moment with her nonsense I can interrupt her and say Hey! Stop. I don't want to hear that story right now. I just want to be here, right now. And I can turn my attention back to my breath, the horizon, sensations in my body, I can come back to appreciating the beauty and perfection of this moment - and that feels soooooo good. When she is being judgy I can interrupt her and tell her to be kind. To instead of judging this person or situation, try to see it from their perspective. If someone isn't being nice, maybe it has nothing to do with me. Maybe they are going through a really tough time. Maybe they too have a really mean friend inside their head! And every time I do this, she goes.. oh.... ok. You're right. She starts to believe me!
We are all aware of AI right now right? Well, did you know that you will get out what you feed AI? That it will reply in your tone and what you get out of it is based on the information you feed it. Our minds are kind of like that. We CAN train our minds to behave differently. We can keep refining and refining until that voice inside is more aligned with our heart and soul. Just like as we get older, we refine who we spend our time with to those more like-minded, those who inspire us, love us, respect us and who we feel peaceful around - meditation is like this process, but from within.
Everything starts with our mind. And true personal growth and change have to start with spending time to get to know the different parts of your mind. Not denying them - not hiding them, but really seeing them for what they are - then you know how to do the work of transformation. Of rebuilding, of re-aligning, of moving toward your highest self. And a silent meditation retreat with a good teacher to help you along the way is the perfect place to start this process.
So is it easy? NOOOOO. Should you do it YESSSS! The high I felt at the end of the 3 days was magical. I felt soooo free! I felt nourished, happy and empowered. I felt like me again. The quiet introspection allowed me to remember the light of who I am, that happy, loving soul who sometimes I lose in the midst of life's challenges and in the noise of that mean girl inside my head, whom I am working on.
I leave you with a little poem that I was inspired to write in the midst of retreat...
I remember now
That I am happy,
No, not just that...
I AM happiness.
Just like I am peace, I am love, I am free.
Strip everything away, and even more I will be.
Why do we need permission to be silent and still?
Something we must force, with effort and will.
Isn't it our birthright to just sit and stare?
For it is in the quiet that our hearts and souls we bare.
Our truth and wisdom we finally hear.
And if we listen really close
We realise it was this connection to our higher self,
we've been missing the most.
So let's embrace the love and light within,
for it is the ultimate goal.
And in the depths of silence,
We'll find the key to our soul.