I Went on a Meditation Retreat: Here’s What I Learned
I’m perpetually floored at how easy it is to “check out” – how the world we live is built for distraction. It seems that everywhere we turn, there’s an opportunity to get lost in the various fluctuations of our busy minds or get derailed by the onslaught of daily stimulations. In fact, many of us – myself included – have difficulty enjoying the magic of the present moment.
Seeing this surface-oriented way of living can get me pretty far down in the dumps. My frustrations are manifested in two ways: I either intensely check out – with chips and Netflix, wallowing in my thoughts – or I occupy dreamy headspace that’s just totally cut off from any semblance of reality. When these confusing moments become persistent and make everything feel muddled, I know it’s time to re-center and focus on what’s true. I have the incredible fortune of having an amazing mama who’s also interested in truth – so, last month she and I had the pleasure of going to Assisi, Italy for a five-day meditation retreat.
It was an oasis. We meditated for an hour each morning, guided by a kind soul named David. I learned so much through these meditation sessions, thanks to David’s help. He first had us take note of how our physical body was feeling; observing things like where we felt tension and where we felt relaxed. Next, he had us examine the “quality” of our emotions – were we happy? Sad? Fearful? Finally, he had us place our attention on our thoughts. Was our mind racing in circles, planning and analyzing? Or were we calm?
Scenes from the retreat
David had us “just be” with these emotions, thoughts, and feelings. He didn’t have us try to fix them or ignore them. This alone was such an enlightening and freeing perspective. I instantly felt so much clearer and lighter.
After morning meditation was over, we spent the days walking through the hills, resting, or visiting sacred sites of Saint Francis. The afternoons were spent doing yoga, which I find makes me more receptive and open. The days concluded with another hour-long meditation.
Now, living mindfully is much easier when you’re in the Italian countryside meditating twice a day, eating fresh local food, and practicing yoga. I get that. And incorporating the hugely important bits of wisdom I learned in Assisi back into my life at home is an ongoing – and sometimes challenging – process. With that noted, I did take some insight away from this particular retreat that I am trying to implement into my everyday life. Here are some of them:
Have a meal in silence. Conversations get our emotional and mental juices flowing. There can be a lot of subconscious stress and anxiety around interacting with other humans, and this can interfere with digestion. Give yourself a break and let your digestive system do its job by eating quietly. Try not to let your mind race too quickly – just think about how wonderful it is that your body knows what to do with the food you put into it. Chew your food and breathe deeply.
Get into your body. Stretch, dance, walk, get a massage or massage yourself. Your body is filled with valuable information – listen to it.
Take an afternoon away from your phone. What happens on our devices isn’t real. By getting lost in the little universes on our phones, we neglect so many other parts of our lives. It’s one of the main drivers of the constant “check out.” So, go ahead, don’t look at Instagram for a few days. Don’t check your texts for periods of time. Take a break from Snapchat or whatever your compulsive poison is. Get bored for a second. You’ll find that (perhaps shockingly) you still exist when you’re not attached to your device.
Take a walk in nature. I think we all get this one from an emotional level. But from a literal level, think about it: Plants feed us the oxygen we need to fuel our respiratory systems, we take it in, and we give back the carbon dioxide they need to sustain themselves. It’s a perfect loop! Consciously connecting to this incredible exchange can make you feel like you’re part of something whole and beautiful.
Sit on the floor at least once a day. We spend so much time in quick movement, both physically and mentally, so I find this exercise to be incredibly grounding. And it’s incredibly easy: Sit on the floor. Relax.