By Jenette N. Vizcocho
I walked into Imee Contreras’ Making Friends With The Body: Daylong Silent Mindfulness Meditation Retreat with no expectations, but somehow thinking that because the aim of this day of silence is to make friends with the body, that we would be sitting in front of the mirror silently repeating to ourselves “I love you I love you I love you”. That this is not what happened did not disappoint me at all, as instead I was offered a deeper appreciation for my entire self and not just the physical body, the parts I abuse, misuse, already like, or avoid.
When I looked at the schedule for the day, the words meditation, mindfulness, and silence were on repeat. It’s funny how the instruction to keep silent or to have our phones put away for the rest of the retreat was not the most daunting reminder for the day, it was the thought that everything we did from 9:30 AM – 5:00 PM was to be done with mindfulness. It makes one wonder why does giving love to something literally corporeal such as the body require so much mind work?
Meditation is a concept either accepted or shunned by people around you. Sure some people might be curious to the practice and its merits, but most people who hear “silent day of meditation” quickly look for something else to do. Science is beginning to back it up, but I guess the people in our current state of the world just cannot imagine putting their phones away, turning their televisions and music off, sitting in the quiet for a while to what? Hear thoughts? Process emotions? Come to realizations? No thanks, too hard, too scary, too uncomfortable, too busy, too boring, we’ve got Twitter and Facebook statuses for that.
I have been brash enough in the past to say I took meditation seriously. There were days where I would wake up earlier than usual just to sit in silence. I would meditate if I was nervous about a potentially emotional encounter with people, or if I could not sleep, if I felt yucky, to feel the tingling of my palms and the crown of my head, and to see a kaleidoscope of colors. I would stubbornly keep at it even if my back began to hurt or my legs grew numb, my knees complaining. I felt but would refuse to acknowledge my ego getting in the way, where instead of meditating for the sake of meditation, I did so to forget my current state, to chase that high, the feeling of lightheadedness. Perhaps because my intention to meditate was overpowered by the ticking off the dates I successfully did so, the day I missed a session spelled the end of it for a while.
Imee is the co-founder of the Philippine Insight Meditation Community as well as Shakti Yoga and Wellness Center. She gave us a run-through of activities for the day, reminding us that there is no good or bad way to meditate, that it is a practice that should not be judged. When you look at a photo of someone meditating, you think this person sitting down and breathing must feel as light as a feather, seeing sunshine and clouds and rainbows. I will come clean and say I spent most of the first seated meditation session thinking about how my upper back felt like a huge knot of nodules forcing their way out of my shoulders, how my left foot was falling asleep, what I would eat for dinner, or how it should have been 45 minutes by now, Imee must have struck the singing bowl already and I was just too absorbed in my own thoughts to have noticed. I will come clean even further and admit I was both proud and annoyed that I was the best at keeping still in my head’s made-up contest between myself and my mat neighbors on either side. I could feel their every movement and hear their every shift as though they were shaking the entire room around. Of course by the midpoint of the day I could sense everyone who spoke when we were told to keep silent, those who tried to send messages via eye contact when we were supposed to be immersed in our own mind bubble. It was distracting me and I felt it was taking away from my mindfulness.
I knew I was supposed to focus on myself and I kept up a reminder to go back, back to the self, back to the breath, but perhaps my mind was so used to distractions and an easy way out it grabbed onto anything and zeroed in on others instead. I felt too aware of every cough and giggle, every whispered conversation. When lunch came around, we were told to maintain our silence, to savor each bite, note the nuances of each spoonful, and I tried my hardest to concentrate on my meal. The light salad offset the heavy rice and dhal, one zesty the other spicy. Then it was a dessert reminiscent of panna cotta with an edible flower sitting prettily on top. A green smoothie. It was a wonderful journey into the different tastes, textures, and temperatures. It is also one I rarely embarked on because I was in a hurry, too hungry, had company and conversation, or had a screen in front of me. I later on found out it was prepared by Imee herself, most of the produce grown in her own garden.
Imee led the day of silence through guided meditations and mindfulness practices. Before settling into stillness, some Hatha yoga was done to increase awareness of the body and its subtle movements.
Meditation has allowed me more time and space to think before I respond.
We were instructed to begin a walking meditation after lunch. I was full and kind of sleepy, and I welcomed the movement, but a few minutes into it, as I orbited my mat for the umpteenth time I felt the pain in my upper back return with a vengeance, where picking up and placing my foot back down with care, left then right, left then right became next to impossible. Return the flicker of annoyance toward the foot-dragger, or the one who always got onto my mat and in my way, there I was again, turning to others in order to forget pain that spread like fire all the way up and down and across my spine. I was reacting to outside stimuli instead of managing things I could control: my response to their actions, my thoughts and emotions. I came to realize that how I take away from the people in the room is how I actually react on a daily basis. I sometimes think people do things with the intention to hurt me, or in a deliberate act of ignoring me, instead of examining why I thought and felt that way, instead of accepting how I felt and being solely responsible for it. Who knows, perhaps to others, I have been the distracting one, the hurtful or unavailable one. But I believe we are all just going along in our lives doing the best we can, one foot in front of the other.
I think my shift in perspective came when the earth shook just as we concluded the afternoon meditation. The slight swaying of the room caused people to break their silence. We were asked to not fight the movement, nor the feelings that we felt, or the thoughts that occurred, a true calling for mindfulness in a moment when it is most needed. I remember sitting there feeling lulled, the support of the wall against my back, now no longer painful as I surrendered my body against it. Imee took the earthquake as a cue to change her sharing exercise, where instead of asking us questions that focused on our bodies, she asked us how we felt after the quake, who we thought of, what we thought we had left unsaid, what we identified as important in our lives. I broke my silence by retelling to my sharing partner the thoughts that came up throughout the retreat, by looking her in the eye, by receiving and accepting her truth.
It’s funny how on a day of silence your body ends up telling you things you need to just accept and sit with. It’s also funny how I can sit the whole day at work, sit through a movie- three on a very good day- no problem, sit in a car in the middle of a traffic jam, but have my back scream during a 45-minute session of seated meditation. Perhaps it’s because when the eyes are closed and all is quiet, there is nothing to distract you from how you feel, think, or what you experience. Perhaps when our eyes are opened and we have a million distractions we trick our minds into rejecting what we see or to come up with something else. Stillness is the simplest in theory and the hardest in action, no two meditations will ever be the same, but all of them will always bring you back to yourself.
If interested, you may contact:
Philippine Insight Meditation Community:
Shakti Yoga and Wellness Center, Laguna: https://www.facebook.com/shaktiyogaph/
Get out into the real world.
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