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!

Catching Up

It has been TOO long since I have posted on here. I’ve thought about it often, but a busy field hockey season, a chapter on the Meuse-Argonne offensive in WWI (a project I hope to be able to share with you soon), and, you know, teaching and grading got in the way. I’ve now planned and taught my entire unit on Hinduism, and would like to spend a few posts catching up on what I enjoy and find particularly challenging about teaching that faith. I also hope that this post can be the start of a return to a more regular posting schedule–I’m aiming for twice a week: Saturdays and Wednesdays. Hold me to it, fans!

In addition to posting more regularly, I have also been trying to integrate a more consistent yoga practice into my life. For me, it’s an opportunity to take some time to do something that makes me feel physically stronger but also gives me some time to check in with myself mentally and emotionally. While most yoga teachers I know don’t delve deeply into the faith of Hinduism, they use the sanskrit terms, they chant the universal sound (om), and they recognize the importance of cycles and balance. Further, most teachers recognize that in yoga there is the idea that everyone’s practice is different, but all are right (I think this is a sincere belief, and not just something they tell me to make me feel better about my tight hamstrings). This is true for the larger Hindu faith as well, and is the part of Hinduism that personally I connect to the most–this idea that there are many paths that can all take us to the same place. It’s the same wonderful quality that Yann Martel references in his book Life of Pi, when he describes how Pi meets Christianity and Islam through Hinduism. For example, here he explains a moment where multiple faiths come alive:

“I entered the church, without fear this time, for it was now my house too. I offered prayers to Christ, who is alive. Then I raced down the hill on the left and raced up the hill on the right—to offer thanks to Lord Krishna for having put Jesus of Nazareth, whose humanity I found so compelling, in my way.”

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