I’m back!

It’s been a great couple of weeks. Total silence really did me some good. I realised how much noise I have in my life, even though I live in quite a peaceful, rural location in Crete.

Not talking or communicating in any way for ten days was fascinating. On the first day, my mind was all over the place, and I couldn’t meditate for more than a minute without following some ridiculous train of thought. But gradually, day by day, hour by hour, my mind cleared, and it became natural just to sit and experience the present moment. Well, natural for my mind – my body never quite got used to the idea 😉

It was interesting for me that the ban on reading and writing also had a positive effect in clearing my mind. Reading, after all, is filling your head with someone else’s words – more noise. And writing is an exercise in conceptualising and making intellectual constructs, whereas the emphasis in the mediation course was on developing awareness of simple lived experiences. I won’t be giving up reading or writing, or even cutting back – they are too important to my life, and have too many other benefits. But it was interesting to do without them for a while and see what happened.

There are so many other things I learned, but I don’t want to write a long post. It was a very good experience, though, and I feel better for it.

It appears, also, that I’ve been busy publishing new things since I went away. I’ve got a short story in this new anthology published by Hearst Magazines UK. I had a book review published in the latest issue of Scottish lit mag The Bottle Imp. And my novel is being promoted in Blackwell’s Oxford Alumni Bookshop. I should go meditating more often!

What’s your experience of meditation, retreats, or depriving yourself of ‘noise’? Do you like the idea of ten days of silence, or would it drive you crazy?

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There are 23 comments

  1. Interesting to hear your experiences. I’m sure a similar arrangement would drive me barmy. I love having a busy head, and I hate being stranded somewhere with nothing to read.
    That said, I do have regular parts of the day when I’m not reading or writing, and have to tune into the here and now. I own a horse, and the way to ride him best is to give him all my awareness, to live in the swing of his back and the rhythm of his stride. Of course, if I’ve got a lot on my mind I don’t always succeed, but the very best rides are where I forget time and just go with him, like a dancing partner.
    Welcome back!

    1. Hi Roz! I can certainly see that it would drive a lot of people barmy. Personally I hate having a busy head – I tend to overthink things, and go round in circles, generating anxiety and making little progress. I seem to function better when I just take action.

      Love your description of the horse-riding! It’s true that meditation doesn’t have to be a static, cross-legged experience. Sometimes when you’re most active, you’re the most tuned in to the present moment. Thanks for commenting! Good to hear from you.

  2. Welcome back, Andrew. Good to hear you’ve had a good experience and learned some new things in the process.
    I think it would be an interesting experiment to try out. I love the silence but not all the time. Sometimes I need to go through noise so I can appreciate the silence more.
    Disconnecting from the world for a while is not a bad idea but I would like to have a pen and paper to at least write about it. Not sure it would be allowed, though.

    Congratulations on the good news. I enjoyed reading your review of The Interpretations and will add this book to my to-be-read list.
    Your short story, Hunting for Crabs – wasn’t it available online at some point? I remember reading it but don’t recall the ending. Or maybe it was just a fragment?

    1. Hi Delia

      You’re right – it’s the contrasts in life that make you appreciate the other side. I don’t think I’d want that much silence all the time, but it was great to experience it for ten days.

      I thought I’d want to write about it as well, but in the end I felt no desire for a pen and paper. They placed a real emphasis on continuity, so even though there were breaks in the meditation, we were supposed to stay in the present all the time, and not let our minds wander off. Writing would have taken me out of that meditative state. As it was, I started thinking a few times about what I’d write about the experience when I got back 🙂

      The Interpretations was a really good book – I think you’d enjoy it. And yes, the story was available online earlier this year – well remembered! I think they’ve taken it down now that the ebook is out.

  3. What an interesting experience.

    I have never done anything remotely like it. I would find it difficult not to read I think. It is so part of my psyche, it would be almost be like not eating. I think that I could do without everything else though.

    1. I thought I’d find it difficult too, but in the end I didn’t miss it. Well, OK, once I did take to reading and rereading the fire evacuation sheet on the wall. But mostly I didn’t miss it 😉 It felt refreshing to have such a clear head. I’m not advocating it as a long-term measure, but I found it very illuminating to take a short break from reading.

  4. Welcome back, Andrew! It’s wonderful to hear how useful and rejuvenating meditation was for you. I meditate from time to time but usually only for a few minutes. I’m encouraged to try longer stretches of an hour or two.

    1. Thanks Corey! Good to hear from you. I’m the same normally – I’ve never done such long stretches before, and actually it was very tough, not just to keep the mind still but the body also. Sitting in the same position for 11 hours a day for 10 days is HARD!! My back is still reminding me how hard it was. But I do plan to try longer meditation each morning as a regular part of my routine. Glad I encouraged you to try it too. We’ll see how it goes…

  5. Welcome back, Andrew! It is wonderful to know that you enjoyed the meditation retreat. It must have been wonderful to be away for a couple of weeks not thinking and just letting your mind be calm and empty without any thoughts. Thanks for the links. Hoping tor read your book review soon.

    1. Thanks Vishy! Yes, it was wonderful – at first I was thinking about everything, and towards the end I started thinking about going back, but there was a wonderful stretch of a week or so in the middle where I didn’t think about anything at all, and it felt amazing!

  6. Welcome back!

    It’s very interesting to read about your experience. So there’s no withdrawal symptoms when a heavy reader stops reading?

    I can’t imagine what it is to think about nothing. (or to think nothing?) That said, if you think about nothing, then you don’t need books to distract you from your thoughts.

    I don’t think I could do it. I’d be restless.

    1. Well, perhaps in the post I made it sound simpler than it was. I certainly did get the urge to read, but there was simply no option – I had no books, no papers, no computer or phone – just an empty room. I knew it would be like that for 10 days (we weren’t allowed off the property, so there was no opportunity to buy a newspaper or anything). So I just accepted it, partly out of practicality, and also partly out of curiosity to see what it would be like to do the silence thing 100%.

      I was very restless at first, and thought I’d never calm down. But gradually I did. My brain was still active, but more easy to control. At first it was jumping around all over the place, but in the end I was able to train it to focus on what we were told to focus on – the sensations we were experiencing on the body. We went from head to feet, then back up again, focusing on each part of the body and noticing the sensations. The idea was to stop reacting to sensations with either aversion for unpleasant ones or craving for pleasant ones, and simply to observe. You’re right, the brain always has to be doing something, but it was interesting to direct its activity more deliberately on simple present-moment things, instead of going off on tangents.

  7. Welcome back, Andrew! Did you stop communicating at all, or just via internet, phone etc… it sounds very cleansing, although I would worry that my brain would track back to things I would rather not think about.

    1. Thanks Alice! Yes, stopped all communication – no speaking, writing, sign language, even eye contact. We were allowed to ask the teacher or the organisers if we had a problem, but that was it.

      It’s interesting what you said – I did find scenes and people from years ago popping into my head, things I hadn’t thought of for years. In fact, part of the theory of the meditation was that it brought old problems to the surface, which could be quite uncomfortable.

  8. I’ve tried meditating a few times but once I was either too tired or really in the zone and it scared me a little how much awareness I’d lost of my surroundings so I haven’t tried it since. It’s brilliant for clearing your head though, and the calming affect is great. Hope it left you inspired (and glad you’re not giving up writing!)

    1. It can be a little scary – you certainly have to be somewhere where you feel safe. Most of the meditation in this place was in a hall with 100 other people, all sitting silently on their mats, so it was easy to relax and not worry about being aware of your surroundings. But in a less organised setting it could be a problem.

  9. I’m so glad you had a good time – I was pretty sure you’d like it! I try and keep my world as quiet as possible. I’m one of those highly sensitive people Elaine Aron talks about and I find noise to be physically painful (the cinema hurts, for instance). But you make an excellent point that the volume inside my head is pretty much turned to high all the time. I reckon I read about 100 pages a day, and then there’s writing on top of that. I have found, though, that if I’m ill, I heal much quicker if I stay completely silent, no reading or writing or listening, on the first couple of days. It definitely makes a difference.

    1. I hadn’t come across Elaine Aron before, but her work sounds interesting. Funnily enough, the hardest part of the course for me was the last day, when the silence suddenly ended and there was a huge outbreak of noise. All those conversations all happening at once after ten days of silence – I retreated quickly to my room and shut the door! But yes, internal noise is very different. Who knows, maybe it’s the internal noise that makes the external noise hard to handle? Anyway, the total silence certainly felt healing for me, even though I wasn’t ill as such, so I can see how it would help you recover. Good to hear from you!

  10. Oh so no reading or writing either? You make a good point about why you stepped away from them. Very interesting. I have never gone on retreats but I do love really long bike rides. I’ve seen a cycling t-shirt that says “miles are my meditation” and for me that is true. When I’m biking there is nothing else going on expect me and the landscape and the rhythm of pedaling. When I get home 5 hours later I feel so clean and empty inside. It’s lovely.

    1. Yes, I can see how that would be very meditative, Stefanie! The repetitive rhythm and the lack of any inputs other than what’s in front of you. I know exactly what you mean about the clean, empty feeling. I love reading and taking in information and engaging with ideas, but sometimes I just need to kind of reset and let my mind do nothing at all.

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