8 Things I Learned from My Silent Meditation Retreat

8 Things I Learned from My Silent Meditation Retreat

I mentioned a few weeks ago that my oldest daughter participated in a 10-day silent meditation retreat in India. And after I heard about her experience, I was curious to try it out myself. So when I heard about a silent Jewish meditation retreat taking place this past Thursday and Friday, I asked my 19-year-old Hallel if she wanted to go together, and she did. So we went.
There were about 20 of us women there. And during the retreat we weren’t allowed to talk, to write, to read (though Torah learning was permitted during breaks), even to interact with one another even through gestures. All we could do for 16 hours was meditate, guided by our teacher Rachel Dasa (who was, thankfully, allowed to talk), eat, sleep, and pray.
And here are some of the surprising things I learned from those 16 hours of silence.
1. In my regular life, I realized, I am constantly distracted from my self. Busy doing, reading, listening. And at the retreat, with all my usual distractions removed, I was surprised to discover how much I enjoy my own company. I could have gone on that way for a few more days.
2. At the same time, I realized that with all distractions removed, uncomfortable and unresolved memories and feelings seemed to pop up out of nowhere. Rachel Dasa explained that this is very good, it means we are getting rid of whatever mental junk is weighing us down.
And the truth is, after the high of the retreat, I expected to go home to my kids and get ready for Shabbat and feel grouchy and overwhelmed. But instead, even once home, I felt unusually calm and happy. Unusually junk-free.
3. I learned that when you focus your full attention on a place in your body where you feel discomfort, the discomfort shifts. It generally lessens and sometimes (I experienced) even disappears entirely.
4. As we meditated, Rachel spoke a lot about how we are connected, through our bodies to both Heaven and Earth–our heads reaching to Heaven, and our feet down to the earth. And that made me realize how, in my regular life, I fight being pulled down to the earth by the physical, the material. If I wash dishes, for example, I pass the time by listening to a Torah class that pulls me up heavenward from my earthly chores. But being connected to earth, I realized during this meditation, is also important. In fact, one is not necessarily superior to the other. And since I came home I’m seeing that focusing fully on earthly tasks feels really good. Holy even.
5. The moon played a big role for me during the retreat. The moon was nearly full, and most of the night of the retreat it was hidden behind clouds. I saw it rising, so bright at one side of the sky at 9 PM. I saw it mid-sky at 2 AM. And I saw the moon orange and setting at around 5 AM.
And that made me think how the Midrash compares the moon to a woman, and that night I was reminded me that even when it is hidden behind clouds, the moon shines bright. Like a modest Jewish woman, shining her own light, in her home, behind the scenes. But her light, as bright as ever.
6. When we did the relaxation exercise before sleep, Rachel called us, “Beloved ones, precious ones, wrapped up in love.” And that felt so wonderful, like all of us there, grandmothers and teenagers alike, are all as precious and beloved as newborn babies in Hashem’s nursery.
7. Over and over, Rachel guided us to focus our attention on every part of our bodies, from top to bottom (focus on your left foot, your big toe, your second toe, your third toe, your fourth toe. your fifth toe…) And then to scan our bodies for discomfort, and to focus our attention there, until the discomfort shifted. I enjoyed that.
I tend to live very much in my mind, not my body. And I liked feeling my self in my body. Feeling my “spirit– vigilant, alert, and present within my body” as Rachel put it.
8. The most moving part of the retreat for me was a part that might well sound the strangest to you. But I guess all of this might sound quite strange, come to think of it. During meditation, Rachel often asked us to focus our full attention on the space between our noses and upper lip. Rachel reminded us that this was where the angel kicked us before we were born, so we forgot all of the Torah an angel taught us in utero.
And that made me think of all the Torah, the holiness, the connection with Hashem that was taken from me so abruptly before I was even born. And how much, for years, before I became religious, I yearned for that connection, even though I couldn’t put a name to it. And how much today (even though now I can put a name to it, thank G-d) I yearn for it still.

9 comments

  1. weird and strange but oh so interesting. Never heard of these things here in America!

  2. Shalom Chana,

    Would love to know details of the Jewish silent meditation retreat you did – name/number/e-mail/website of facilitator. I wasn’t able to find anything with a quick Google search, and I wasn’t sure how Dasa is spelled in Hebrew. You can send it to my e-mail address if you don’t want to put it up publically. Thanks!

    Chatima Tova!

    Nili

  3. Chana Schoenberg

    Chana this seems interesting. I was once on a silent retreat years ago. Would like more details. But everything is in Hebrew! Are these retreats $ reasonable? More details
    Thanks

    • hi chana, nice to hear from you! The retreat I did cost 500 nis. Try calling them or emailing in English.

  4. Sounds wonderful!

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