Stepping into Stillness
Silent Meditation Retreat
By: Scott (Yogizilla) Falkin
Not knowing exactly what I signed up for I found myself checking into the retreat center situated in rural Washington on a beautiful property with rolling grasslands surrounded by tall evergreen trees. The initial mood of the seventy participants was excited and uncertain. Men and women were kept were housed in separate dorms and united only during “group sits” in the meditation hall. The rules were established after the first meal, there will be no talking, no eye contact with anyone, no touching, no food outside of breakfast, lunch, and tea / fruit for an evening snack…oh and of course no cell phone, books, journals, crystals, yoga, and physical exercise beyond gentle walking. We didn’t know it from the start but all of us had intentionally signed up to sit with that little voice in our heads and all of our past baggage and future longing for the next 10, or so, days. Being a father of three and an owner of two businesses, the prospect of some substantial quiet time felt like a gift and I was excited to get started with this whole silence thing.
The first three days were entirely focused on the simple task of sitting and focusing the mind on the breath, only in the space between the entrance of the nostrils and bridge of the nose…easy right?? My initial feelings of joy to be sitting in stillness soon wore off after day one and the reality that my nimble yoga body was now a blazing inferno of excruciating pain. We would sit for sessions of one, two, or three hours, with small breaks in between. After each sit all of us new students would limp out of the hall and stretch, massage, or slow walk to bring life back to our limbs. Turns out the wisdom of such intense focus and sensory deprivation was to bring our mind into a state of Samadhi – perpetual bliss…turns out it worked.
On day four we learned the technique of Vipassana Meditation which involves not moving the body at all – FOR AN HOUR or more while you simply witness all of the sensation (pleasure or pain) happening in the body without judgement and without doing anything about that sensation. Tell you what, sitting and just accepting the reality inside my body without trying to change anything is super hard.
The Guru kept reinforcing that we should “accept reality as it is, simply witness it” and “keep a calm and equanimous mind and just observe”. Hard you say? Yup – I completely broke down. I sat and I sat and I sat and everything buried inside started to rise up. At times that uprooting brought me to tears that cascaded down my face and began to cleanse my body, my mind and my heart. At one point I had to leave the meditation hall, I found my way to the nice grassy field outside and straight up ugly cried for at least forty minutes. So much old pain was exciting my system and I couldn’t help but let it out. That kind of deep release is powerful, once the pain left my body an immense amount of love came flooding in to the open spaces. Out there in the field in my moment of deep surrender I felt so much it was almost overwhelming!
The goal of this meditation is to train the deep subtle mind to stop reacting to experience (physical, mental, emotional) based on past input so that we can move towards complete liberation and experience this life thru only the lens of love. With a deep understanding that the laws of nature control all things and that the only thing that we can control is our response to them we free ourselves from creating new samskaras (habitual response patterns – karma) that keep us bound to the birth / rebirth cycle of this world. When in deep meditation and with a equanimous mind we are able to actually experience our body as simple sensations and without responding or labeling the sensations we can start to clean our body of past samskaras – creating a pure sounding board for the sensory input to hit before subtle mind makes a judgement of pleasure or pain. It is said that the root of all suffering is our own desire to crave good feelings and our aversion to suffering. Complete liberation is freedom from all craving and aversion – simply accepting reality as it is.
My own wild experiences include some massive emotional releases and a few days of incredibly hard work of being in meditation and actively cleansing my body of my old patterns. At one point I experienced black tar oozing form my joints and slowly moving towards my spine then moving up and out the top of my head. When the tar, which I can only assume was the manifestation of my pain, exited my body I began to feel lighter. The extraction of all the old crap came in waves as if lifetimes of old karma were peeling off of me like layers of an onion. My understanding of yoga philosophy and experiencing yoga in my body helped me find my own method of digging deeper into the meditation. There was a point where I witnessed galaxies spinning at each of my chackra centers and the outer edges of stars were pulling the darkness out of my joints and shooting them up the center of my spine, the sushumna nadi, and then right out the of the crown of my head. Each time the darkness would leave an area of my body I would experience a profound opening in that location. My body became more and more flexible even though all I was allowed to do was sit.
Towards the end of my time in the meditation hall my body felt no pain, completely open and free. Energy and an immense light would shoot around my body and I felt love and light shooting into my skull and filling me completely. In one sitting I experienced tiny lightning bolts hitting my brain in a strategic pattern as if rewiring it and my brain floated above my skull as if I was having spiritual surgery. Once the esoteric procedure was complete the brain was placed back inside its home and my mind felt like a serene pond, calm and reflective. My head hurt for four days following.
My last sit in the hall was intense; my body was glowing and vibrating. Love and energy was entering my body and with each heartbeat radiating outward from me in all directions. In that moment and despite that fact that I hadn’t talk to any of the other 69 or so participants, I felt completely connected to every spirit in the room. It was a powerful moment and one I will always carry with me. Shortly after that experience I decided I had received what I had come to Vipassana to find. I was awake and aware of the mystery that lies beneath our thoughts and our pain and I now had tools to access it whenever I needed to be reminded of its existence.
Reentry into the busy busy world was not easy. Life is moving so fast and there is so much happening all at once. I’ve developed a daily meditation home practice to compliment my yoga practice and am finding the partnership is helping to keep me engaged with everyone around me from a more centered place. I’ve realized that I never need to seek anything outside of myself to find happiness because it resides within me. A few simple reminders for us all. Do no harm to others, perform selfless service always, and continue to develop daily practices that bring us back to our true selves. And to quote a good friend of mine “love conquers all”.
Peace, love, namaste