Assistant editor Dan Hoffman finds a mindful weekend retreat helps him de-stress and harmonize his thoughts.
Posted in , May 23, 2016
In the past I have blogged about mindfulness meditation and its numerous benefits. Although I practice it daily and with a group every Sunday, this past weekend I took it the next level at a retreat at Blue Cliff Monastery in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York. I went there with 10 other members from my group, and joined about a dozen other meditators from New York City. The experience was special and profound–more so than I expected from a two-day escape.
Without a doubt, I needed to get away for the weekend. I’m searching for a place to move next month, and the week before the retreat, I had a falling out with a dear friend. In short, I was out of sorts.
The natural beauty of the monastery—80 acres of forest, walking trails and babbling brooks–left me in awe. The nature all around me didn’t distract me from what I was going through, but it reminded me that I could hold space in myself for joy alongside my negative thoughts. Throughout the two days, I wasn’t able to do anything about what was happening in New York, but I could examine my feelings–which came and went, with varying intensity–in a place of serenity.
The schedule for the weekend wasn’t too strict, because the monastics there emphasize mindfulness throughout the day, rather than mandated periods of meditation. We sat for 45 minutes each morning at 5:45, and another 45 minutes at 7:30 in the evening.
Saturday and Sunday afternoon, we walked in silence in the forest for about an hour, and all meals were taken in silence. A few times we had the opportunity to discuss our experiences with other members. The rest of the time, I just walked the grounds, or napped.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this experience was how it transformed my awareness of time. I was there less than 48 hours, but it felt like a whole week had passed. I often asked the time (I didn’t carry a watch or a phone with me) and was shocked to find that it was only early in the afternoon. Not because I was bored, but because each minute was so vividly and fully experienced.
In a talk given by an American monk on Sunday, I found myself thinking of a story I worked on recently for Guideposts.
The monk spoke of a need to be able to pause and “harmonize” with conflicts, upsets and setbacks in life, trusting that there’s a solution, but we don’t need to react immediately.
In the Guideposts story, one woman’s weight-loss regimen is derailed by an injury, but she learns to trust that God will present her with a solution–and He does. In a way, the story and the monk were saying the same thing.
This was perhaps my greatest take-away from the weekend. I no longer have an urgency to solve everything right away–an urgency which I’ve learned usually makes things more complicated.
I don’t know where I’m going to live next month or what will happen with my friend, but something will change and I’ll figure it out when necessary. In the meantime, I’m going to slow down, take time with my thoughts and experience each minute. I’m not going to worry, because I’m okay right now.
Have you had an experience that slowed time for you? What places inspire you to live in the now? Share your thoughts with Mysterious Ways.