At Sprious, the pursuit of personal development by all of our amazing staff is a fundamental value that we do our best to live by each day. I strongly believe that every person who feels a true sense of personal development in their lives will undoubtedly be happier – and I am no different.
In 2019, I had a realization: my brain was firing off in 104 different directions all at the same moment in time, each and every day. The exact number is completely arbitrary, of course, but the point I came to realize is that I needed a way to calm my mind and to be more diligent with the thoughts that I allow to enter my consciousness. The solution? A 7 day silent meditation retreat.
What is this so-called retreat?
Many high-flying CEOs in the past couple decades – my favorite being Steve Jobs – have popularized the concept of a meditation retreat. His retreat and his belief in meditation were some things that I have quickly latched onto, even moreso after my own experience in this realm. Generally speaking, such retreats are attended by everyone from beginners to experts, who go into a concentrated environment to hone in on their meditation desires.
The specific retreat I ended up deciding on was Bali Usada Tapa Brata. Admittedly, I didn’t quite understand what their website meant by it being a “health meditation”, but I rationalized that my wild brain was an ailment to be explored and healed. The most appealing part of this particular retreat was that it was a true disconnection from the world: no speaking, no eye contact or physical communication with others, no reading, no writing – we were even encouraged to avoid daydreaming!
I was convinced that this was exactly what I needed. But boy, was I in for a rude awakening….
The 7 Days Of Hellish Heaven
That’s right, hellish heaven. Both of the most extreme ends of the spectrum were felt and experienced in these 7 days. Some days, I hated myself for signing up for the darn thing in the first place. Other days, I was so thankful for the realizations I was coming to while there.
Allow me to walk you through these 7 days, one by one:
We arrived at Forest Island around 3 p.m. that day. The grounds we were staying on were in the middle of Bali’s island, tucked away from all modern civilization (see pictures). It was a blissful place where I was eager to get started… but in hindsight, I really should have taken a few more minutes of enjoyment in being able to communicate with my classmates. Once we were turned off as human beings, it was a point of no return.
By 8 p.m. that day, we began our “noble silence” (the retreat’s way of saying to no longer communicate with one another). Our first meditation session was at 9 p.m. and lasted only 30 minutes, but even in that short period of time I had aches and pains in my knees and back. This was 30 minutes of what would end up being approximately 50 hours of silent meditation to come. Uh oh.
Adrenaline was still high from being in this environment and the excitement I felt for what I was hoping to learn here. Surprisingly, I made it through day 2 with few complaints from the perspective of noble silence. The greatest problem at this time was the physical pain. Knees, back, shoulders, neck – you name it, and it hurt.
The typical schedule for most days was waking up at 4:30am and ending the day with a final meditation at 9:30 p.m. In total, we had silent meditation (with little to no guidance during the session) for about 8 hours per day. I share this to help you understand the physical toll the body takes by sitting in an idle position for so many hours. It was not pleasant, to say the least.
Mental pain started to set in on this day, making me wish I had never come here in the first place. However, because my mind was focusing on mental pain, the physical pain started to slowly diminish after noon on this day. This was a small moment of triumph, but I still had no idea what was to come in the following 3 days from a mental standpoint.
The mind tricks began on this day (and not the cool ones you see on TV). I woke up from a nap around 10 a.m. and when I went outside everything I was looking at was a light pink color. No, this was not a beautiful Nebraskan sunset, but a visual distortion my mind was putting me through. To top it off, the cicadas had not stopped whirring for the entire time I had been on Forest Island. Imagine a constant ringing, 24 hours a day, in the environment we were in… to say I was going a little crazy was an understatement!
On this day, the mental strain was really kicking in. Due to the lessons that were taught to us in our night session on day 4, I had already focused my mental energy on what we were taught, but to a little bit of an extreme. By midday I had an unforgettable migraine that persisted for the remainder of the retreat, all due to the fact that I was pushing my brain to work as hard as it could.
On this day, we were also able to speak for the first time in 5 full days to the instructor! As I started trying to form words, I discovered that the muscles that activated my voice box were nonexistent. I could not speak! It took me a few full minutes to finally make out a whispered word, and I continued to struggle my way through the 1 on 1 discussion with the instructor.
At 1 p.m. on this day, we were finally able to open the noble silence – meaning we could talk, read, write, and communicate with other human beings. As everyone started chatting, I quickly became disoriented and dizzy from the scattered noises around my highly sensitive body. A couple hours later, they returned our cellphones, and at that point I decided that I would leave mine off for another day. If I was unable to handle the simple act of listening to people talking, I knew a slammed inbox would send me off the deep end (and it would have: I opened it up to 356 text messages).
The final day arrived. We did three total meditations this day, and left Forest Island at around 1 p.m. to head back to civilization. Our last meditation was around the mystical Bohdi tree, putting a special final stamp on the experience. As we packed up and drove off Forest Island, I was left in complete awe and disarray to what had just happened in the past 7 days.
Takeaways That I Will Bring Back Home
Although I learned many things at the retreat itself, I have more importantly identified beneficial takeaways that I’ll be able to carry with me for the rest of my life.
The power of the mind
Our instructor frequently reminded us throughout the retreat that he believes we are only using 5% of our brain for conscious thinking and acting. Many scientists argue similarly, and as a general rule of thumb I’ve come to accept this concept to be true.
Let’s take a moment and think about the times when we are consciously aware, and then identify when our subconscious is acting for us. What told my index finger to type a letter on my keyboard, or lips to form words that I am typing as I read this out loud? I’m not consciously saying: “Ok finger, it’s time to step up big here. Press that letter B! Ok great finger, let’s now move to typing a Y!” Of course we don’t do this, our subconscious is performing the action for us.
So, how does that all relate? Well, our instructor said that in an environment such as one of these retreats, you are so well in tune with your body and your mind (because, let’s face it, there’s nothing else to do!) that most students reach a point of 30-60% consciousness. With little else to do other than be in our head all day, this makes sense to me. Therefore, a great takeaway I now have as a new art, skill, and power is the acknowledgement and understanding that I can tap into more of my conscious brain’s effort and utilize it more effectively, instead of letting my subconscious create those arbitrary 104 directions of thinking at any moment in time. Of course, the environment we’re all in on a day to day basis doesn’t allow for 30-60% consciousness, but if I’ve elevated my conscious awareness even by 5% it would mean I’ve doubled my brain’s ability. Worth it? Absolutely.
Lastly, it’s worth noting the power of the mind as it relates to discipline. This is the single hardest activity I’ve done in my life (dethroning my 29 day bike ride across the US) and it is no exaggeration to say that I thought about quitting at a frequency I didn’t know was in me. However, perseverance and the discipline that I forced myself into allows me to walk away from this retreat with pride and a great reminder for myself in the future that “if I can do that retreat, then I can handle scenario X”.
As I wrote above, we spent the majority of day 5 and day 6 training our mind and body to feel loving-kindness in all aspects of our life. We were taught to go through 5 layers of loving-kindness: love for yourself, love for your family, love for your friends, love for neutral people, and love for your enemies. For those who know me, you know that I generally have skepticism on such other-worldly, abstract concepts as these (I’m a computer science major, so you can imagine that I typically prefer logic-driven ideas), but because we had nothing else to do besides walk through these 5 pillars for those 16 hours between the two days, I quickly became more understanding of the concept as a whole.
When I meditate at home now and perform this exercise, I truly can feel some inner sense of happiness when I finish each pillar. Your heart becomes more open, and you see people differently in all walks of your life. For example, on my flights back from Asia, I encountered a lot of “neutral” people (defined as people that you do not know). I consciously reminded myself to feel loving-kindness towards those people, and whether or not they felt it – I did. I felt more connected to said neutral people, and felt more kindness and generosity to them even if they were not receptive of it themselves. This conscious skill and realization is a game changer for me as I enter this new mindful phase of my life. I’ll spare the showmanship in wishing you, the reader, such loving-kindness, but I encourage you to consider the idea of it as a whole.
Stop and smell the roses
We’ve all heard this term, sure, but when was the last time you actually…stopped and smelled a rose bush? I realized that I, in fact, had not in any period of time I could recollect, and more importantly, I realized that I wasn’t stopping to appreciate many things in life because of my fast-paced professional career.
On day 6 when they opened up the noble silence, which allowed us to look horizontally in front of us rather than at our feet to avoid eye contact, I was walking by a tree by the restrooms that I had walked past over a hundred times during the 6 days. This one particular time, though, I noticed a beautiful yellow flower growing from the tree. In the mindful state I was still in, I diligently got closer to the flower, slowly held it in my hand and looked at the exact size and shape of it, and literally smelled it.
This realization struck me hard in that I couldn’t recall the last time I had done such a thing, and thus, the principle that I took away from this retreat that I am ever grateful for is: stop and appreciate the present moment in life. And if you have an opportunity to stop and smell a flower – do it! 🙂