Six Months After My Silent Meditation Retreat

In February, I boarded a plane to Massachusetts and began a nearly week long silent retreat at the Insight Meditation Society. I was at the peak of my meditative practice at this point, sitting every day for usually thirty minutes. Of course, this was nowhere near the minimum eight hours a day I would spend in meditative silence while on retreat, but I was relatively well prepared for the rigors of this kind of practice.

Now that half a year has passed, it feels like it’s time to reflect on how this experience affected me. I’ve had a particular piece of paper just hanging out on my desk ever since we moved into our apartment in May – a list that I wrote while on retreat.

[A piece of paper with red ink in Carly’s handwriting has two bulleted lists on it, reading: THINGS I ACTUALLY MISS
– Singing & music
– Cracking jokes
– Google & Vine compilations
– Writing & drawing (telling stories)
– Running
– Communication/human contact”
In a bubble separating the two lists, a thought is written:
“I just remembered that I didn’t even have a cellphone until I was up for promotion at HIE. Now look at me.”
The second list reads:
CHANGES I WANT TO MAKE:
– More phone calls, less texts
– Uninstall… lots
– Keep Social Media but continue to be mindful and limit usage
– Uninstall Snapchat
– Look at Nick more
– Practice everyday mindfulness
– Eliminate beef & pork
– Less OW
– METTA”]

So how much of this list did I actually act on? Well, to summarize the “Things I Actually Miss” section, I think that I engage in basically all of these as much as I possibly can except running. Especially since I’m temporarily in Michigan, I’ve been much more social than I had been last summer in Michigan. To be honest, while I’m temporarily “on break” from school, I kind of wish I was doing more with folks but to be totally transparent, a lot of people don’t answer my texts. So. It is what it is.

As for running, shortly after retreat, I started to have hamstring issues whenever I ran. I do miss the freedom and endorphins of a good run and hope to find some way I can either still run or some kind of replacement. Maybe a bike.

My cellphone is still with me all the time but I’m less attached to it than I used to be – for example, I keep forgetting it in the car pretty much every time I come home from going out into the world. Like I mentioned in my retreat post, I turned off notifications for everything except messaging. This has served me really well and I’ll never go back. Someone once said to me if they didn’t have notifications on, they’d never remember to check things. Good. Fuck those apps. You don’t need them. They need you.

The changes I wanted to make? I’d say I had about a fifty percent success rate.

  • More phone calls, less texts
    • I call my mom more but no one else, really. See: people struggle to answer my texts. It is what it is. If anyone ever wants to call me, feel free. I got nothing but time.
  • Uninstall… lots
    • I sure did uninstall a ton. My phone is pretty sparse right now. It’s good.
  • Keep Social Media but continue to be mindful & limit usage
    • I spend a max of 30 minutes a day on social media. Life is better when this is kept pretty minimal – comparing your life to everyone else’s highlight reel all of the time is toxic.
  • Uninstall Snapchat
    • Some people I know basically only use Snapchat. So I still have it. I’ve uninstalled it a few times but always end up reinstalling it. Oh well.
  • Look at Nick more
    • I’ve done great with this one. It’s funny how much time we spend with people but we’re just looking at our phones all of the time.
  • Practice everyday mindfulness
    • Pumping gas, eating lunch on the balcony, standing in line, being aware of my thoughts when stuck in traffic – I have lots of tiny mindfulness moments throughout the day. I notice a lot more beauty now as a result.
  • Eliminate beef & pork
  • Less OW
    • I’ve 100% failed on this one. I still play Overwatch every single day, probably too much. Though to be fair, when I was really busy with school, it was limited to two hours a day. Everyone needs a hobby, right?
  • METTA
    • Loving-kindness. I really do try to practice this a lot. Mostly with trolls on the internet or strangers IRL, especially while driving. It’s helpful.

Rereading my post from six months ago, I did actually predict that I was about to go through a Dark Night period (Dissolution, Fear, Misery, Disgust, Desire for Deliverance and Re-Observation), and truth be told I’m probably still spinning my wheels somewhere between Fear, Desire for Deliverance, and Re-Observation. It’s super hard to diagnose when you’re so close to it. Maybe another six months from now, I’ll be able to look back at this period of time and tell you more accurately.

This is a big part of the reason why I scheduled a solo camping trip. A friend invited me to go out into the woods with them, far away from civilization, which was very sweet but also terrifying. My anxiety is not at a place where I can tolerate not having cell service, no other human beings nearby, and the inability to go to the hospital in case of emergency within 10 minutes. So I opted for a cute little campground with all of the above important features as a sort of “training wheels” situation to expose myself to some lower scale anxieties like insects, being alone, being away from home and my Safe Person, Nicholas. If I can survive two nights on my own in a campground, then I can maybe graduate to the woods. Fingers crossed for me.

I intend on meditating as much as I can tolerate out there. I haven’t really been sitting lately because it’s been very anxiety-inducing. This means that I probably need it more than ever, that I’m close to a breakthrough, yet I’ve been super resistant to meditating. So I figure a tiny Henry David Thoreau moment in nature will be just what I need to kickstart my practice again and hopefully break through to the other side of my present misery.

To be fair, my anxiety is much, much improved compared to a month ago or so but I’ve also had to double down on coping mechanisms with intense vigor. Last night I almost had my first panic attack in two weeks but after using every tool in my toolbox short of an Ativan, I fended it off. So I’m not out of the woods yet. Pun intended.

But to bring it back to my retreat six months ago, I’ve certainly taken a good deal of what I learned then into my life presently. It’s a shame that I wasn’t able to avoid the re-emergence of my Panic Disorder through meditation alone but it still has enriched my life regardless. It’s likely that it’ll continue to do so for a very long time, if not forever.

Would I recommend a silent retreat to others? Absolutely. Even if you just did a weekend to dip your toes into it, though I now feel that seven to ten days is probably the optimal period. The just-shy of a week that I did wasn’t quite long enough in my opinion.

Would I do another silent retreat? Probably. I think I would try to find a smaller one, however. Having more individualized attention would have been really great. But the facility at IMS is absolutely top notch and due to the huge demand they have, I’m utterly unsurprised their retreats have such high attendance numbers.

In the meantime, I’ll try to make my own mini version of a retreat on Lake Ely. Wish me luck.

One thought on “Six Months After My Silent Meditation Retreat

  1. Oh, and if you do decide to go on retreat – SURRENDER YOUR PHONE. You will be fine, I swear. And if you really need to make a call or get your phone back, those are options. But the temptation is too strong otherwise, trust me. Let it go.

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