“Enlightenment is understanding that there is nowhere to go, nothing to do, and nobody you have to be except exactly who you’re being right now.”
Special birthdays deserve special celebrations. This year, I decided to do something of a spiritual nature to celebrate my birthday – so, instead of stuffing my face (I love to eat), I decided to feed my soul (how Californian does that sound)!
Wanting to share the experience, my husband Barry agreed to join me for an all-day silent “Insight Meditation” Retreat at Spirit Rock Meditation Center. Insight Meditation (“Vipassana”) is a simple technique that begins with focusing attention on your breath – a practice that can lead to better concentration and a calmer mind, ultimately allowing one to be more fully present and aware in each moment.
Spirit Rock, a rustic Buddhist Zen Center in Marin, offers day-long, weekend, week-long, month-long (and longer) classes and retreats. Weekly drop-in classes are also available (30-40 minute meditations, followed by a talk about meditation and spiritual practice. Yoga may also be offered.) Seeing that this was our first serious meditation practice in years, we decided to go for just one day and see how it went. Our feeling was that if we liked it, we could always go for longer next time.
The day started on a high note. As we drove across the Golden Gate Bridge at 8am, the sun lit up the bridge – a brilliant bright orange against a clear blue sky backdrop. It was a surreal sight and we were both totally “in the moment.” The beauty of San Francisco and the Bay Area never ceases to amaze us.
As we made our way into Marin and took the turn into Spirit Rock, we were filled with anticipation of the day ahead. Although we’ve both meditated before, neither of us had ever spent a full day meditating… and in silence to boot! We were both determined to be “fully present” and practice silence all day long. That also meant no iPhone, no iPad, no email, no texting, no gadgets whatsoever!
Arriving at the retreat early, we had a chance to walk around the grounds. Our first stop was to peak inside Spirit Rock’s Gratitude Hut (pictured below). The walls inside the tiny wooden structure are filled with pictures, (including those of the Dalai Lama – we sat in on one of his presentations at Stanford last year and he was amazing). A sign on the wall reads “Please offer your prayers and blessings in the monks’ bowl. They will periodically be put into our prayer wheel.” I wrote out a short prayer on one of the little pieces of paper and placed it in the monks’ bowl – it felt like the right way to start our day’s journey.
About 100 people ( predominately women) turned up for the session – more than we expected. Chairs and cushions are provided, however many people (including me) brought their own yoga cushions. We wore layered clothing (t-shirt, hoodie, fleece coat) and it was perfect as the temperatures varied throughout the day (inside and out). If you go, be sure to wear warm socks – shoes must be removed prior to entering the Meditation Hall. You may want to wear slip-on shoes or sandals – easy to put on and take off while alternating between the seated “indoor” meditations and the walking “outdoor” meditations.
The morning session consisted of a series of Guided and Silent Seated and Walking Meditations. The morning flew by and before we knew it, it was time for lunch. On recommendations that we bring our own lunch, we packed sandwiches and fruit. We ate our lunch outside in silence, just the two of us – you don’t have to stay together as a group. Many people sat on the grass and on the hillside (think picnic), especially as it was a beautiful sunny day. We were both very aware of how we tasted our food more intensely when not talking as a distraction – each bite was delicious and gratifying.
After lunch, Barry and I hiked up to the top of the hill, located across from the Meditation Hall (views along the dirt trail were magnificent). And the small sitting Buddhas dotted on the hillside were a nice touch and made the setting even more calming.
We had a few minutes to spare before the afternoon session, so we stopped by Spirit Rock’s Bookstore, located near the main Meditation Hall. The tiny space is chock-a-block with “spirit” gifts – Buddhas, wind-chimes, yoga and meditation accessories, books, jewelry… and so much more! Barry suggested that I choose something as a special memento of the day. I spotted a 4-lb grey rock with black lettering “It is what it is” (which happens to be my favorite phrase). It’s now sitting on our fireplace ledge in perfect view of when I practice yoga and meditation each morning – it always brings a smile to my face… and happy memories of our meditation retreat 🙂
The afternoon session consisted of a series of more Seated and Walking Meditations, an informative Q&A session (it was the only time I broke my silence… to ask a question) – and enlightening Dharma Talks. The whole day was a silent retreat – not as hard as we thought it would be (we both love to talk). Barry’s challenge was no gadgets (he loves his toys!) Funnily enough, the hardest part of not talking was not being able to say “thank you” when someone held the door open for us, or when shopping at the Bookstore, and not being able to answer the shopkeeper when she asked me if I wanted my rock wrapped, and if I needed a bag (luckily nodding worked just fine)!
What an enlightening experience! One thing we noticed during our walking meditations were the sounds and colors around us – everything seemed to be enhanced and more intense. During the day, we learned a lot about ourselves – it’s hard not to when you’re alone with your thoughts all day. In this 24/7 crazy busy world, it was so nice to relax, unwind – and just BE in the moment.
Moment of truth… we did take a few pictures (as you can see on our blog and website) but that was all. We didn’t turn our iPhones on until we left Spirit Rock and that was only to access GPS! On our drive home, we were both so aware, focused, and full of energy… while at the same time, feeling completely relaxed. If you’re looking for a insightful experience, Spirit Rock might be a good choice for you. It certainly lived up to all my expectations… and then some!
Would we do it again? Barry enjoyed the experience, but would opt for a few hours or a half-day next time. And me? I thought a full day was just the right amount of time – I’d do it again in a heartbeat!
Have you ever been to a Meditation or Yoga Retreat at Spirit Rock?
What were some of your experiences?
What other Spiritual Retreats have you attended?