One day, when I was browsing through the Facebook feed, a notification from an old friend of mine popped up.
Antonio invited me to a meditation retreat in Greece. Yay for Greece! Yay for meditation! The little pop up engaged my attention for the next couple of hours as I researched a practice called Vipassana, which I’ve never heard of before.
Regular meditation was never my strongest side.
I’ve tired it, yes, but sitting still and clearing my mind for an hour was too difficult.
Observing my thoughts? Letting them wash over me? Still too extreme. Unable to meditate by a handbook, I was very happy when I read that sleep was also a form of meditation. Excited by this new piece of knowledge, I devoted myself to sleep. That is, to meditation. After all, any excuse for sleeping is good.
I enjoyed my sleeping sessions but I did felt a hunger for more. I wanted the benefits that I’ve heard meditation can bestow on you.
When I saw Antonio’s invitation to the retreat, I knew I was ready.
I clicked on the link and read the description:
- Vipassana lets you see the state of things as they really are.
- Vipassana allows you to observe your emotions.
- Vipassana is the training of the mind to be aware of the present moment.
- Vipassana allows overcoming difficulties that we find in our daily life.
All right, all right. Sounds good.
I wrote to Antonio so quickly that the fire under my fingers nearly melted my keyboard. Yes, there’s still space. I’m coming. I don’t know how because I’m skint. But I’m coming.
Antonio was organising the retreat in the island of Lefkada, which has some of the most breathtaking beaches I’ve seen. Another bonus of the retreat. When April arrived, I packed my backpack, kissed my goldfish goodbye and went off to Greece.
Antonio set me up in his lovely guesthouse in Paleros, just opposite Lefkada.
When D-day arrived, my friend stuffed me in an already overpacked car, put his mum’s aromatic pumpkin pie on my lap (he knows the dangers of leaving me in control of good food…) and we set out for the village of Neohori.
The trip up the mountains was jolly.
The lunch we shared with all the retreat participants was jolly. Savouring Greek food was jolly. And then came the noble silence.
The noble what?
That wasn’t in the retreat description…
Or was it?
The seminar I joined was a silent retreat. Fourteen days long.
There’s logic behind the silence, though. The point of not talking is that you’re eliminating distractions. You’re putting a lot of effort in this practice and conversations re-direct energy. Your mind is already busy and the less food for thought, the better.
Even a smile can be hard to get over.
Learning Vipassana, you really get a chance to go deep inside yourself. Some of the things you’ll see are funny, some are sad and some are scary. We’re complicated creatures with a limited understanding of the world that we live in.
“I probably wouldn’t be alive today if I didn’t learn that the world is actually interesting when you look at it closely,” as my friend, Shooting Star, put it recently. Vipassana gives a chance to look closely.
We’re all struggling.
That is a fact of life. Sometimes overcoming our pettiness is the hardest thing to do. So much easier to stay small and weak and angry. So much easier to let our Ego be the driver.
Learning to recognise the moment in which we become trapped by the power of our Ego, helps us snap out of it. Being more mindful and aware can guide us through the darkest hours.
Wow. I went really Vipassana on you there. But it is what it is. Everything changes. Rising, falling. One moment you’re happy, another moment you’re sad. One moment you’re angry, another moment you’re blissful. Whatever happens, one thing is for sure: things are not going to stay the same.
Being able to withstand a shitstorm? Not such a bad idea…
Now, let’s go back to the silence.
When I realised that we’re really not supposed to talk for the next two weeks, I just shrugged my shoulders, No problem. I’m more of a thinker anyway, right? When I found out that I also wasn’t supposed to read, write or listen to music, I still didn’t care much. After all, it was only two weeks.
But then I got to live the silence and ten days later, I learned something new about myself: I liked to talk.
Still, I had to remain silent…
The good thing was that there were things that made the practice sweeter. First of all, Neohori’s location is perfect for letting your guard down. The surroundings are so beautiful that being there was a blessing every single day.
Second of all: the food. Yeah, I know… But the food was amazing! Pure, fresh, seasoned with love. True feast for our taste buds. The duo that was in charge of cooking, Adonis and Daphnie, enjoyed this side of the retreat so much that they actually decided to start FoodPath, a catering company that offers organic food.
There was one more reason for this retreat nailing it: the meditation teacher.
I was worried that I’m gonna meet some weird, aloof, spiritual whatever but instead I met Martin Pack. His wisdom, knowledge and the kind of humor that is actually funny, really supported our learning curve. If you ever venture into the walking-sitting meditation, I sincerely wish you a guide as good as Martin.
I know you might be curious about what transpired during the fortnight of silence. To learn this, I guess you’re just gonna have to go through the retreat yourself. Or PM me. You can also do that.
On the 15th day of the retreat, the noble silence was lifted.
We could interact as “normal” human beings once again.
It is very strange to meet people through silence. I had the impression that I knew my comrades so well but the truth was that I didn’t know them at all. It was time to discover each other from scratch.
We had time for this, as we didn’t jump straight back into the real world (which might have ended in the meantime, by the way). For a couple of days, we were just travelling around Lefkada, eating amazing food, enjoying turquoise beaches, bright sun and conversations.
It was good, it was sweet.
It was very Vipassana.
If you’re thinking of meditation but retreats sound too hardcore for you at this stage, I recommend this short video:
And if you’re already meditating, the above is great to simply sit back and enjoy.