“Help me Lord, please to rise a little higher. Help me Lord, please to burn out this desire.”
Hear Me Lord, George Harrison
Recently I went on a silent meditation retreat. I’ve practiced meditation for years, but never had a chance to do five days of silence where I dedicated myself completely to my inner world. I freed myself from my responsibilities for a week then set out to free my mind!
If you have been practicing meditation and feel ready to take it to the next level, I highly recommend doing a silence retreat.
Why silence? Yoga, Vedanta and Buddhism all teach us to control fears, selfishness and desires that lead to suffering. Yoga teaches the inclination to speak arises from emotions caught in the vastness of mind. When the tongue quiets, the other senses awaken and mindfulness truly begins.
In form, silence is not simply refraining from speech, as meditation is not simply emptying the mind. The mind will always chatter away if not given another, more useful chore such as a yoga posture, a breathing exercise, or a mantra. Or we could fill the mind with the senses as we keenly observe the presence of nature. Be careful that thoughts remain pure without adding likes, dislikes or other untoward thoughts or emotions. The Yoga Sutras, from its onset, elucidates the need to calm vrittis, alterations in the mind, by using such methods. It thereby teaches that we can return to our natural unadulterated state with a mind free of afflictions.
During the retreat, I was able to reach deep levels of consciousness with great clarity moving beyond the coverings, or koshas, (see page called Kindness) towards the inner Self. I was able to relax my body and mind a great deal. This was easier than usual because the gentlepeople facilitating the retreat guided us through several deep, relaxation techniques. There were also multiple liberating opportunities to practice hatha yoga, breathing exercises, walking meditations, journaling, plus there were four sitting meditations daily. Everything was in a non-judgmental environment.
What happened for me during this retreat was, as with my usual meditations, I went through my routine and, as I settled into the process I examined thoughts in the mind as they arose, gently looking at them as if they were old friends. “I remember you. You’ve passed through my mind several times,” I said as the drama of memories flowed past. Then I removed my attachment to the suffering each caused, releasing their hold over me. Yoga has taughtfor millennia what modern psychology calls cognitive behavioral therapy.
The difference from my daily routine was I could persevere and wasn’t interrupted. This is abhyasa, or consistent, intentional practice. With the routine and atmosphere of the retreat setting, the practices could be maintained longer than usual. As I surrendered to the schedule, the outer world melted away as the inner world opened up. Such bliss!
Vairagya translates as non-attachment or dispassion where we control desires that affect the mind negatively. The Yoga Sutras tells us that by doing the practices regularly with discrimination and dispassion we can overcome negative thought patterns. Dispassion is literally the removal (dis) of suffering (passion). As two wings of a bird are necessary for flight, consistent practice while maintaining dispassion are essential partners for progress in spiritual life.
Of the Eight Limbs of Yoga, or Ashtanga, the five niyamas make the second limb. They are:
- Shaucha, cleaning of the mind. Here one determines not to be disturbed by thoughts that flutter about.
- 2. Santosha, contentment with what one has.
- Tapas, doing the necessary work without complaint.
- Svadhyaya, self-exploration and reflection on prayers.
- Ishvara-pranidhana, surrender to and practicing the presence of God.
Silence is a perfect opportunity to practice the niyamas because they are personal, internal observances serving to liberate us from suffering. I love the last one: Practice the presence of God. The message from Psalm 46 distinctly tells us to practice the presence of God, also:
“Be still and know that I am God…
the Lord is with us. God is our refuge.”
Further, Vyasa’s commentary of ishvara-pranidhana, tells us that through this practice our pure, unencumbered nature is realized and we come to know we’re truly identical with the image of God. But how do we practice? Practice that God is here, now. That’s right, now while reading this.
Surrendering to God eliminates desire by seeing that God is here and in all. It’s very satisfying to no longer identify solely with objects of world. No waiting for an epiphany or death. The long search for the Indweller is over when you practice God is present and with you.
While on retreat I was able to consistently look at my mind with dispassion and self-study, then I surrendered to the quiet presence. I felt profoundly in touch with the inner world in less than a week. I enjoyed nature, rekindled my spirit, and harmonized my meditation practice. And I can access and surrender to that comforting experience now in daily life more easily. I know I will do a silence retreat again, but I hope it will be for at least 10 days next time.
“Smell the sea and feel the sky; Let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic.
And when that foghorn blows, I will be coming home.”
Into The Mystic, Van Morrison
Copyright Cynthia Gran 2015