As the world finds itself holed up in a global pandemic, I’m reminded of my first attempt at a self-directed silent retreat in isolation at the nunnery where I was living in the Himalayas. That experience became a chapter in my book, which feels appropriate to share in these times…
Enlightenment is not for wimps.
I have just completed my first attempt at an isolated ten-day silent meditation retreat, and note the following lessons to ensure future retreats can be a) done in isolation; b) ten days long; c) silent and; d) meditative:
Do not attempt to start it on the day my previous month’s lodging and food bill has finally been calculated. The earnest office assistant might forget I am in silent retreat and call me to the office to review her calculations because she wants to be fair. She might then say with an apologetic expression after glancing at my IN SILENCE badge, “Please can you pay as soon as possible?”
Do not attempt to re-enter a meditative state after lunch on the second day just as Mother Nature is putting up a full rainbow, end-to-end, right in front of me while snow is falling on the Himalayas in the background. I may not be able to resist grabbing my camera and running like a mad woman to capture the glory of the moment to remind myself of the magnitude of distraction dangers that abound.
Do not assume food poisoning will bring about any measure of enlightenment on days three, four or five.
Do not assume a meditative state is possible on the afternoon of day seven if, shortly after my retreat, I will be attending teachings with the Dalai Lama. I may be asked to complete security forms and provide copies of my passport and visa, then I may have to walk twenty minutes each way to/from the nearby village to get two passport photos. And upon finding out the photo shop’s camera is broken I may have to walk thirty minutes each way to/from another nearby village again on day eight to complete my task.
Do not assume, while in the village on day eight and feeling that my retreat has been a total bust, that I can say to myself, “Damn it all, this is ridiculous! I admit defeat! I am just going to go into this little garden restaurant, have a little snack, and even though it will be seriously frowned upon if anyone finds out, I’m going to have my first glass of wine in India!” As unlikely as it might be during the hours when everyone is usually studying, praying or meditating, before the waitress even gets to my table one of the Thosamling nuns might just wander into the garden restaurant to take some pictures of the lovely area with her new camera. And then she might join me to have a nice cup of tea as I enjoy a nice glass of freshly squeezed orange juice.