I read about Dan Harris’s experience at a ten day silent retreat a few years ago in his book 10% Happier, and for some reason, as a pretty new meditator, I remember saying to myself, “I’ll definitely do that one day.”
Once I got certified as a meditation teacher, I began to feel an inexplicable tug to sit for a ten day silent meditation retreat and I decided it was going to be my 40th birthday present to myself. I turn 40 in June, but there was no way I could leave during baseball season, so January seemed like a logical time to go.
The overwhelming response I got from people when they found out I was going was “why?” or “I don’t get it!” I totally understand how crazy it seems to voluntarily disconnect from everything, not talk for ten days, and meditate for 100 hours in that time. I really do. And I didn’t even have a very good answer beyond, “I just need to do this.” The truth is that I had no real expectations. I didn’t know what would happen and how I would change, I simply felt a call, and I listened.
I didn’t research or ask a million people about their experiences. Basically the only two words I’ve ever heard used to describe a ten day sit is transformational and excruciating. I didn’t really need to hear more! I wanted to have no preconceived ideas or expectations.
Fortunately there is a Vipassana Meditation Center about four hours from me, near Dallas, so the trip seemed easy enough and I signed up six months in advance. Truthfully, in my heart I had committed even six months before that because I started turning down other retreat opportunities, and my reason being this was the year I was doing a ten day silent retreat.
I had no clue what Vipassana was all about, but I felt pretty much game for anything having to do with meditation.
The weeks leading up to my departure my nerves kicked in big time, but about a week or two before I left they completely faded. I was so sure that this was the right next step for my personal growth and development, as well as my meditation practice, and I had no doubts.
The packing was super easy! Ten pairs of sweatpants and sweatshirts, face wash and lotion, shampoo, a comb, comfy socks and Uggs, and that was basically it. I was going to have ten days with no makeup, no blow dryer, no snacks, no dinner, no technology, and no access to the outside world beyond the retreat boundaries. I was excited and terrified. I left in the middle of season 3 of Parenthood, right before Christina had her baby, and honestly the hardest part was that I would have to wait till I got home to see the baby be born. (It’s a problem I think that the characters of Parenthood are very present in my mind, almost like my real friends!)
Saying goodbye to Mark and the boys was hard. I put Adam to bed crying the night before and did everything I could think of to prepare. Mark had a 5 page list of instructions, the boys had a letter to read from me every day and a video of me saying goodnight to watch each night. Mark was basically a superhero and completely took over my household duties in addition to work. My mother-in-law pitched in big time, and I had great friends that helped a ton. I am so blessed to have this support system, and I know it!
Heading to the retreat center was an adventure in itself as I navigated windy country roads. It is only the second time that I have driven more than an hour myself, so it already felt like a new level of independence was being reached.
I spent the car ride saying goodbye to my family and close friends, and as I pulled in I felt ready for it to begin, yet it felt surreal at the same time. I met two sweet girls, the only two names I would know for ten days, and we walked the grounds and unloaded our cars together.
The time quickly came to turn in my car keys, wallet and cell phone, unpack and get ready for orientation. I called Mark for one last quick goodbye and that was the moment that I began to panic. My voice cracked and I simply said one more “I love you” with a few tears in my eyes.
It felt oddly freeing to turn everything in, but I walked into my small private room to unpack and I will admit that I threw up in my mouth a tiny bit. The reality of what I was about to do, and how disconnected from my family I was going to be, hit me like a tidal wave. The only way to calm myself down was to breathe and remember that I chose this. I had to believe that I was in the right place, at the right time, doing just what I needed to do for myself. I simply had to.
And then it began…