I started my first 10-day silent meditation retreat less than one week after I heard about the opportunity. I chose to participate in the retreat at a Vipassana centre in Montebello, Quebec half-way between Montreal and Ottawa. This meditation centre is one of hundreds across the world. It is dedicated to the practice of Vipassana Meditation as taught by the late S. N. Goenka in the tradition of the master Sayagyi U Ba Khin. Vipassana means "to see things as they really are". It is a logical process of mental purification through self-observation. Although springing from the teachings of the Buddha, this non-sectarian technique is open to everyone regardless of background or belief.
This 10-day silent meditation retreat (during which all participants meditated for 10+ hours/day) is one of the most challenging things that I have done in my life. I continue to meditate daily (though not for as long as Vipassana prescribes, which is 1 hour in the morning and 1 hour in the evening). Despite its inherent challenges, it has also been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. An experience like this is an intense one, because the participants are immersed in silence, which can be both peaceful and frightening, as you are `stuck` with your own mind for 10 days, and nothing but. Though you may speak to the teacher should you have any questions, there are no other distractions during the 10 days, which means no use of electronics, no reading or writing or drawing, but (thankfully) no chores either. The meals are prepared for you by volunteers and you make a charitable donation within your means for the retreat experience. I have since volunteered for 3 and 10 day retreats, along with participating in several 1 day retreats, another 3 day retreat, with yet another coming up at the end of June.
My experience has taught me many principles, including feeling comfortable with oneself, how to be more at peace, and eventually to consistently think and venture 'outside of the box' once the retreat is over and everyone is back to the real world. Just as working on my physical body in the past has deepened my theoretical understanding of concepts, I have aimed to participate in my daily activities in an enriching and positive way by keeping up my daily meditation practice. I have been able to move beyond my previous frame of reference, and my world has become less one-sided and fuller. I believe that the meditation retreat experience, though difficult, is certainly worth it. I hope that my future experiences will give me the opportunity to continue to put my 'mental training' into practice, to see the world from others' viewpoints, and to consistently participate in this exchange. I have since realized that the truly fascinating elements of human nature are not in our differences, but in the connections and similarities. I have taken every relevant opportunity I can to experience others first-hand and find the common thread between us. I have realized that people are not so different – we just have different ways of interpreting those fundamental values of human experience: beauty, truth, and peace.
It has not always been a smooth ride, though, and there will always be (mental) obstacles to overcome, which is part of the adventure. I recently completed a neurofeedback exercise (in which sensors were attached to my skull to monitor my brain activity), and I was one of the only two individuals the technician had then seen who, at times, had very high frequency brain activity. This level of high frequency brain waves means that the focus of my mind has become more 'razor-sharp', and I attribute that shift in large part to meditation. Nevertheless, I am still human, and I have many useless thoughts on which I mull over at times. I recommend that everyone should experiment with different mindfulness activities/techniques/methods, until they are able to find what works for them. Meditation has helped me to stop living my life in the past or future, and to live more of it in the present. With that, I hope you all bestow upon yourselves the present of presence.
Lida Tohidi is the founder of Pidari Consultancy, which focuses on strategic planning and implementation for innovative organizations, specializing in cleantech, CSR, and sustainability projects. She is a mindfulness meditation enthusiast, and in the last year, has spent 1+ month in silence, with 11 hours of daily meditation. Lida advises (clean)tech start-ups, and would like to expand upon this in the near future. She is also looking to move to California this summer, so drop her a line with suggestions!
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