The Sound of Silence

One of the things I love about my yoga class at Durham Yoga Company is that there actually is a spiritual component. It’s not heavy, but it’s there–Mira, the teacher, shares her own spiritual wonderings and wanderings and is very knowledgeable about Buddhism, Sanskrit, and more. She encourages us to reflect on our practice, our lives, being better people–in my book all good things. She’s also an incredible teacher of yoga who has clearly put a lot of effort and time into becoming a talented instructor.

There are also so many wonderful people that come to the class–“a full Durham”–to borrow a phrase my parents coined when they lived here. About a week ago, Mira had two friends visiting and she mentioned, off-hand, that they had recently finished a three-year silent meditation retreat.

A three-year. Silent. Meditation. Retreat.

For someone who often has to be reminded to use her inside voice, this blew my mind. How could one commit to three years of silence? Especially undertaking that with a partner–the first thing I thought of was how hard it would be not to compare notes as the experience went on. Also, what do you do all day, besides meditate? I am sure it varies from place to place, but I did a little research to get an idea.

This description from Spirit Rock was the best that I could find, especially when it came to the daily routine:

The daily rhythm of a retreat usually involves alternating periods of sitting and walking meditation, eating and work meditations, as well as interviews, Dharma talks and rest periods. The first sitting usually begins at about 6 a.m., and a typical day includes seven sitting and six walking periods of 45 minutes apiece. Each morning the teachers offer continuing meditation instructions for the day. The whole retreat is a succession of mindfulness training, breathing practices, deep awareness of the body and environment, meditations on the nature of feelings, and awareness of mind and the laws that govern it. These are the same fundamental teachings of insight meditation offered in the traditional Buddhist monasteries of Asia.

To me, it sounds incredibly difficult. In an interview with Dan Harris, author of 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Really Works–A True Story (let’s work on that title length, Dan!), he states that on his week-long silent retreat, this was all “just as horrible as you think it sounds.” But then he talks about reaching a point of euphoria. His description reminded me of a runner’s high–you are slogging through all of the work of paying attention to your thoughts, patiently, somewhat painfully, and then finally the moment hits where it stops being work?

Is a three year retreat then the equivalent of an ultra-marathon? Could you do it?

P.S. Some talks from the three-year retreat at Diamond Mountain. I guess there are breaks in the silence, sometimes!

I call that a success!

As I was grading final exams, I came across this.

Question 1

Question 1

Question 2

Question 2

Not the best student, and in fact, a student who in his original journal post stated that he would be working to try to help me accept Christianity this year. Glad that I’ve helped him grow more accepting too.