Lara Stewart-Panko

My 10-Day Silent Retreat – Part 1

In late April of 2019 I embarked on a 10-day silent mediation retreat in a remote coastal town in Mexico. I went alone (though I lied to my mother and told her I was going with a friend to save her a bunch of worry). Prior to the retreat I had meditated with some regularity over many years, and done a 3-day silent retreat over a decade back, but this endeavour was both exciting and daunting, to say the least.

The facility was well-run. Small, clean, orderly, safe. I opted for a private cabana as I feared rooming with a stranger for 10 days, especially if they had really annoying habits. I stayed in a modest unit with a thatched roof that allowed lizards and cockroaches to visit. Thank goodness for the mosquito netting around my bed -- the insects thought my repellant was rather tasty so the netting was a saving grace.

I had a tap with running water but no shower. There was a basin that I was instructed to fill with water and then use the hardened gourd shell provided to scoop the water over myself for a makeshift standing bath. I thought, "Screw that.", and was glad my child-sized body fit just fine into the basin itself. I'd climb in, crouch down and have something resembling a proper wash. I had a composting toilet that ants also found pretty nifty, meaning sitting to do my business had me running the risk of ants taking a tour across my backside. Fun times. Thankfully there weren't too many spiders! Potable water was available in the common area and I had the blessing of a fan to get me through the 35-degree nights.

We were strongly encouraged to follow some guidelines for the duration of our stay: no phones (mine was left in the safe and I didn't miss it for one second, other than when I wanted to take some pictures, which I did do on the last day before I headed to the airport), no reading (that got hard on day 4), no passing notes or otherwise communicating with other participants, abstain from affection and all forms of sex, keep all mirrors covered to discourage vanity and egoic concerns, be silent and don't make eye contact. We were expected to be courteous and hold doors for one another, but other than that, no interaction. It was GREAT! The joy of eating a meal next to someone with zero expectation to make small talk...ahhh.

Speaking of meals, three meals each day were prepared for us and the buffet system worked like a well-oiled machine. We all washed our own dishes after each meal and a gong would signal when we could go back for seconds. The food was vegan and fresh and delicious. On day 7 -- yes, it took me until day 7 -- I sat blissfully eating my lunch, thinking about how great it was I didn't have to prepare the food, nor meal plan, nor shop for it, nor....holy shit!! That has been my husband's deal for over 20 years!!!! Talk about a wake-up call.

And waking was interesting. I had the foresight to bring a travel alarm clock since I knew my phone would be off-limits. Some millenials were not so prepared. A karma yogi at the Centre would make the rounds each morning at 6:30am to ring a gong that signalled everyone to get up and be in the meditation hall by 7am. I preferred waking sooner so I could be leisurely about getting ready for the long day ahead. Sometimes I had time to sit on the patio with the ocean view, bats zipping past overhead eating insects in the scant light of first dawn. It was very, very peaceful.

Then came the meditation. Two facilitators gave instruction over the days. A group of 50 or so of us (separated into the women's side and the men's side) sat for 6.5 hours each day. The shortest sitting periods were 30 minutes, the longest was 2 hours. It was physically painful, but we were at liberty to change position from sitting to kneeling to standing or sitting on a chair. We were not permitted to recline nor lay down. Mornings were easiest. After lunch the hall was hot and the balance of the day and evening had us sitting and sweating. There was a 3-hour break for personal time each day. It was necessary and balancing. During it we could nap, journal, meditate more, walk to the beach (swimming wasn't safe but it was still great to be oceanside). We also did Hatha yoga each day. That was the part I hated. It hurt. It was unlike any yoga I'd done in the past. We'd hold each pose about 5 minutes continuously. Sucked.

In the evenings there was a Q & A time where participants could write questions to the facilitators and they would answer them verbally to the whole group. It was a good time and sometimes the whole group would erupt in laughter. Especially when a note would begin along the lines, "I am sooooooo annoyed right now..."

The physical conditions did push comfort zones, for sure. And being in close proximity with strangers you couldn't communicate with facilitated awareness of one's peeves and quirks. I was surprised at some of the stories my mind built about those around me, the assumptions I'd make, and the woman who chose to wear an anklet with a bell that jingled with each step she took, well, she wasn't my favourite comrade, to say the least.

The photo is taken from the grounds of the retreat centre in Mazunte, which looked very similar to the buildings pictured.

Check out my emotional and spiritual discoveries in Part 2.

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