Behind the Scenes at a Silent Retreat
This week I’m doing something I’ve never done before, and that’s spending seven nights at a silent meditation retreat in the mountains of North Carolina, outside Asheville.
Let me tell you, it’s a little trippy.
I mean that in the best way, but “a little trippy” is a pretty accurate way to describe long summer days doing things you don’t usually do. But flip-flopping routines, and even ways of thinking, is a big part of the point.
Here are three things that are getting flip-flopped for me this week, and the alternative perspective that I’ll want to bring home.
There is never “the right time” to do this.
No matter how well we’ve prepared to be away from the office and/or from home, there will never be exactly the right time to be out of pocket for eight days straight.
For all the advance planning, for all the out-of-office messages, and for all the pre-scheduled content, there will inevitably be something that comes up that makes it cursed inconvenient to be away from the office, and especially away from home.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t flip-flop, and do it anyway. Carve out time to experiment, that is, with different ideas and maybe in different places and hopefully with different people around us.
As for those cursed inconveniences? They’ll be there when we get home.
So. Much. Stuff.
Accommodations during retreats are typically pretty austere, and this one is no different. Vegetarian and vegan meals. Individual room assignments with one bed, one towel, one chair, one light. It’s the opposite of elaborate; it’s also precisely what we need for every day.
That’s one way to do things. The flip-flopped way is how I arrived at the beginning of the week, with all the Stuff I had packed.
All the books, for example, and the list of all the articles I imagined I would do, in the midst of all this quiet. Other people’s stuff might include all the medicines (“just in case”), all the makeup, and all the clothes.
Do we really need all the stuff? Do we really, even, need all the thoughts?
As the Dalai Lama says on that last point, "Some of your thoughts do not have your best interest in mind. So why would you continue to think them?"
It’s a good question.
What can we leave behind? What can we drop out? How much space can we open, when we get rid of the things and the thoughts that do not actually have our best interest in mind?
That opened space is what I’d like to bring home.
Everyone in the group retreat is assigned a task, like sweeping floors or ringing the wake-up bell, that is done at the same time each day. Mine is prepping meals in the kitchen, which typically means washing or cutting vegetables and picking herbs.
I happen to love this assignment, given my background in restaurant kitchens. I also love it because it reminds me of my time volunteering in the kitchen at the Green Gulch Zen center, just north of San Francisco. There, a list of reminders was posted that greeted each person who entered the kitchen. The first one was about maintaining silence, and speaking only to give or ask for instruction around what you’ve been asked to do. The second reminder was basically this: When you’re peeling carrots, only peel carrots. When you’re washing dishes, only wash dishes. And when you’re chopping onions, only chop onions.
You get the idea.
When the day is segmented into discrete blocks of time, as it is during many retreats and for spiritual communities in general, we’re reminded of the value of focusing on the task at hand, and only the task at hand. To me, not multi-tasking feels like a tremendous relief. To dedicate specific, consistent times of the day to particular activities also feels like a relief. It’s restful, even, because I’m not anxious about when I’m going to get around to what needs to be done, since there’s time dedicated to it.
At first it doesn’t seem feasible to take this idea of “yogi jobs” home at the end of a retreat, and it’s true that our schedules aren’t always (or often) under our own control to segment out blocks of time as we’d like.
But what if you took the idea of that and looked for ways to apply it? Here’s what comes to mind for me:
When I’m talking with someone, only talk with someone. (Seriously, this is a big one. Give it a try.)
When I’m writing an article, only write that article. (It will help to turn off notifications and close Facebook.)
When I’m peeling carrots for dinner, only peel carrots for dinner.
What would it look like for you, to apply the idea of only-this-thing-right-now? We’re curious to hear.
PS Here are the four things that I miss most while on retreat. This list doubles as the four reasons why I will never become a full-time monk…
1. Laughing out loud. Like, a lot.
2. Physical closeness to people (and one big fluffy dog) that I love.
4. Actual conversations with interesting people.
What We’re Watching:
This week it's about video, and the recent hospitality gathering, The Welcome Conference – “Person, Thing or Place” held in New York, brought together a line-up of inspiring speakers. Here are some favorites:
Meet the Tribe!
Our community is only as strong as the company we keep, and here we meet some of the folks who make our profession so dynamic.
Krisna Bharvani, Senior Account Executive, bread & Butter (USA)
Years In Industry:
About four and a half years. I started my career in public relations for the government and the CSR-side of corporations in my hometown, Singapore. I always knew this was temporary and that I would find a way to work in the space I am most passionate about, food and wine. A couple of years later, I landed a job at a boutique PR agency in New York City, specializing in food, wine and spirits.
Since then, I have switched agencies but am still focused in the wine, food and beverage space, with a side gig as a food influencer at @whatKBeats
My Biggest Challenge To Wellness:
Not overdoing it. In our industry, eating out and drinking tends to fill up most days of the week, so it's always a challenge for me to not splurge on that extra bite or sip.
How I Keep It Together To Stay Well:
My mornings are very sacred to me. I never used to be an early riser, but over the years I've realized how my mornings set the tone for my entire day. I begin by listening to a mix of bhajans, chants and mantras. I'm a big fan of Indian kirtan and devotional singers Snatam Kaur, Ketan Patwardhan, Krishna Das, and Jai Uttal - and I make time for a workout class. I also like to squeeze in an evening yoga practice at least once a week to quiet my mind and just get that solid "me" time.
You can follow Krisna on her eating adventures on Instagram @whatKBeats or her personal Instagram at @krisbhar
Let’s Meet Up!
As work life has it, we are traveling over the next few months and would love to see you.
Presenter at the CDO Executive Summit, in Atlanta June 26 (Cathy)
Attendee at Fine Minds 4 Fine Wines in Bordeaux, July 4 to 6 (Cathy)
Attendee at TEXSOM Sommelier Conference in Dallas, August 18 to 20 (Beck)
Attendee at Australian Women in Wine Awards in New York, Sept. 17 (Beck)
Emcee at Australia Decanted in Lake Tahoe, Oct. 6 to 9 (Cathy)