Inside Nomadtopia: Cultivating Mindfulness

June 11, 2014 | ,

The last few days of the silent meditation retreat, I could tell people were getting antsy. On Day 9, when there were no lectures, only meditation sessions, meals, and breaks, the sitting area by the bell tower became a hub for people who chose to talk instead of meditate. Although it was a long, difficult day for me as well, I really didn’t want to break the silence, and I was frustrated that the coordinators didn’t do anything about breaking up the chatty folks.

On Day 10, I was feeling proud to have made it nearly to the end, and although I was feeling eager to see my husband, reconnect with friends and family, and get back to work, I wanted the silence to last as long as possible, and I wasn’t looking forward to being thrust back out into the real world.

The evening of Day 10, we had the opportunity to get up and speak in front of the group about our experience. I shared some of the same things I described in my last blog post: my return after nine years, the appeal of the silence, and my struggles to meditate.

I also shared that I was feeling really happy with my decision to take this time off from my work. (It was the first time in nine years—since my last retreat—that I had been completely offline for more than a few days.) Even though I didn’t yet know how things had gone in my absence, I was pretty confident that everything was fine, and it felt good to prove that I could do it, after years of thinking it wasn’t possible.

I explained to the group that I had found a sense of calm and a stillness that I rarely felt, and that I wanted to hang on to going forward. I wanted to be more intentional with my speech, be a better listener, and be more present and mindful.

Then, the silence suddenly came to an end (I thought it would continue until the next morning, but right after the sharing session they announced it was over), and the group erupted with voices eager to share their stories and experiences.

It’s amazing how quickly the mindfulness can dissipate. During the retreat, I was able to walk slowly and think carefully. But in the hours after we broke the silence, I felt scattered; I rushed from place to place, not remembering where I’d put things or what I was going to do next. I was distracted by the conversations I’d had, the conversations I wanted to have, the people talking around me, and a mix of anxiety and anticipation about leaving the retreat center.

After the retreat, I headed out to the main road, where the real world greeted me in a roar as vehicles of all kinds bellowed exhaust and honked their horns. It was nice to see some different scenery after so long traveling the same paths, but the first moments of reentry were harsh!

I took a minibus to Krabi, where I was meeting Roberto. The two-hour trip gave me some more time to process all that I had experienced. First, I feverishly wrote down everything I wanted to remember about the retreat—experiences, thoughts, revelations (much of which helped me write this post!). Then I checked my email, but just a casual skim to see what kinds of messages awaited, and to delete the easy ones right away.

After I met up with Roberto, we were whisked away to a lovely place on the beach—the perfect place to transition from the silence of the retreat to normal life.

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For the first few days, I didn’t go online for anything except email and Skype. I was still enjoying the break from all the noise of social media and the Internet, and I was hesitant to break the spell, but of course I did eventually!

Since then, I still get sucked in occasionally, but I’ve been finding it easier to stay off social media and out of my inbox when I have other things I need or want to do.

Having been offline for nearly two weeks with no ill effects, plus having spent most of the last year in Asia, where I was asleep during most of my clients’ business hours, taught me that it’s not the end of the world if I don’t check in constantly or get back to people immediately.

I had a few work-related calls scheduled for the few days after the retreat, but I wasn’t feeling ready to dive back in, and I almost canceled them. I decided to go for it, though, and the calls ended up leaving me feeling energized and excited to continue, so it was actually a great way to get back in the swing of things.

Except for the fact that I didn’t make much money while I was away, everything had gone smoothly in my businesses, thanks to my awesome assistant. There were no big emergencies and very few things that had to be taken care of immediately upon my return. I picked up an editing project right away, and my coaching clients were eager to pick back up where we left off.

I think my on-retreat experience in 2005 was quite similar to this year, but I’m hoping the effects will be longer-lasting. I remember being really motivated to meditate and implement all that I had learned after the first retreat, but the habit didn’t stick in the long-term, nor did any kind of regular mindfulness practice, although I occasionally did get back into it for a while.

It’s much too early to say whether this retreat will have longer-lasting effects than the last one, but I think that after having spent the intervening years working for myself (and experiencing the massive growth/distraction of the Internet!), I have a deeper appreciation for meditation and mindfulness and the important role it can play in my life, so I’m more motivated to stick with it.

Being calm and mindful allows me to experience things more fully, stay focused, worry less, and live more intentionally. I also want to be more intentional in my speech, and appreciate the silence. Since the retreat, it seems I’m constantly coming across references to mindfulness, reminding me that it impacts every aspect of life and business and offering lots of support to continue on this path.

I’m getting into a new routine of meditating daily, and I do think it makes a difference in the rest of my day. It’s most challenging to stay mindful when I’m with other people in conversation; it’s very easy to get distracted and pay less attention to my thoughts, speech, and actions.

I’d definitely do another retreat like this in the future. Certainly not once a year, as the coordinator suggested, but maybe sooner than nine years!

And I’ll look for other ways to continue to cultivate this sense of calm in my life—it’s really quite magical. (I took the picture above in the Delhi airport. I think if you change “travel” to “meditate” or “do a retreat” it applies equally well!)

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