Have you ever felt restless and struggled to focus on one thing because your mind is wandering, thinking about the past and worrying about the future?
Have you ever lacked energy and felt dull and drowsy?
Have you ever felt doubt and confusion, struggling to listen properly and learn new things?
Have you ever had a negative mind, focusing on all that’s wrong?
Earlier this year I travelled to Koh Samui, Thailand to attend a 7-day Buddhist silent retreat with a focus on anapanasati, mindfulness with breathing.
At the time of attending the retreat, I answered yes to all of the questions listed above. I was going through a particularly difficult time in my journey of personal development. I had accepted that my meditation practice had become stale, I realised that I found it difficult to enjoy my own company, and sitting still for prolonged periods of time was almost impossible. I always needed to be doing something, whether it be spending time with friends, working on my online business, helping a client, reading a book, exercising and the list goes on. There was always something to distract me from myself, and if there wasn’t I would feel like I was going crazy.
Why is it so difficult to enjoy doing nothing?
How do I switch off, relax and stop looking for the next activity to occupy my mind?
You could argue that it is a good thing to always have the energy to do things, and it definitely has an upside. When I am in this space, I am incredibly productive, I am capable of doing multiple things at once, I live life to the fullest and I have a very active social life. That being said, I recognised the value in being able to sit with myself and focus on nothing but my breathing. It’s so easy to get caught up in the rat race and spend our time doing things that we think will make us happy, or doing things that we think we want, but actually we don’t. It’s so important to slow down and spend time with ourselves. When we tune into our emotions and check in with ourselves, we may find that the motive behind the way we currently live our life is no longer in line with who we really are, and what we really want.
I have a habit of doing things that scare me, I believe that trying things outside of our comfort zone is the single most important technique in developing ourselves, broadening our horizons and discovering new emotions that guide us to a new, brightly lit path. When a friend sent me a message on LinkedIn with a link to a free, 7-day retreat in Thailand it felt like a sign. I was looking to try something new that would shift my mind from negative to positive and so I checked it out. The website was very basic, poorly structured with no graphic design. There’s no way I would have taken an interest into this without knowing someone that had been before, but I did, so I read all about the retreat. My heart pounded at just the thought of spending 7-days in pure silence, so I knew it was something I should do. I secured my place on the upcoming retreat, booked my flights and 3 weeks later I was in Thailand – I love spontaneity.
When the pick up truck came to collect me from my hotel, I was embarrassed. I had travelled with a large suitcase filled with about 5 pairs of shoes and a different outfit for every day, sometimes 2 outfits. I was dressed for a smart casual day around a restaurant swimming pool. I’ve been lucky enough to travel the world in luxury over the last 5 years, it’s only been recently that I’ve started to enjoy travelling alone and to more experiential destinations that broaden my horizons, and I was still learning how to pack for them. Everyone else was appropriately dressed with their travellers rucksack and there I was, sunburnt from the day before with my huge designer suitcase that almost didn’t fit in the truck! Need I say that I didn’t wear about 90% of what I took with me?
After a short drive we arrived at the Buddhist temple situated in the highest point of Koh Samui. It was beautiful, very natural and calming. We were given a tour of the grounds, given our boundaries and shown our place of rest. I was given my number with a bag of equipment to set up my bed and started to do just that. I would spend the next 7-days on a wooden bed, with a wooden head rest tightly snuggled up inside my make shift mosquito net. This was no luxury retreat.
Each day we followed the same routine – I’ve attached a screenshot of the daily schedule.
Even reading through that now gives me slight feelings of anxiety. There is 168 hours in 7 days, 168 hours of pure silence, not speaking to your neighbour, not able to check your phone, laptop, read a book, write notes…zero distraction. The entire time you are sat with nothing except your thoughts. In hindsight I wish I were able to keep notes as I always prefer writing about my experience as I’m experiencing it, it has a more authentic feel to it then trying to remember all the things that happened after an event. If I had of done that, then I wouldn’t have stuck to my self-discipline of experiencing the retreat exactly how it was intended. I was determined to learn and improve myself.
Although I am usually a positive person, full of energy with a very clear vision of where I am heading and how I will get there, I was lost at this particular time in my life. I had recently lost my business, my relationship was failing, I needed to move house and I was scared about making any new commitment. I could see the long-term impact my next decision would have on my life; deciding what to do with my career, deciding whether to repair my relationship and deciding where to live all at the same time is a scary place to be. I wanted clarity, so that I could refocus on my goals and begin rebuilding my life from a better place.
Anapanasati is a 16-step process to reaching enlightenment by using only your breathing. In order to reach enlightenment, one must completely devote their life to the practice, giving up attachment to personal possessions, friends and family. I have the upmost respect for monks, however, I have no desire to become one. I just wanted mental clarity.
During our 7-days we learnt and practiced the first tetrad, which is the first four steps of the practice, anapanasati. The first step is to ‘fully comprehend long in and long out breath’, the second step is to ‘fully comprehend short in and out breathing’, the third step is to ‘experience all bodies’ and the fourth step is to ‘calm the body conditioner’.
The idea behind this practice is that we find our centre. By quietening the mind we can feel our body and emotions, we can tune in with ourselves and find mental clarity. I spent about 90% of my time there feeling extremely uncomfortable, frustrated and full of doubt. I really wanted this retreat to answer all of my problems and give me the mental clarity I was looking for so I persevered despite my persistent frustrations. About 50% of the men left after 2 days, but I was rewarded for my commitment to the retreat. For the 10% of my time spent feeling completely calm, content and peaceful I had some powerful breakthroughs. I could see more clearly then ever the patterns of behaviour I had developed that were limiting my potential, I understood my weaknesses and could see how they could become strengths, I had visions about the future and could see exactly what I needed to do in order to achieve the success I was chasing in business, both with MyOfficeMove and my online coaching, and I could see how It was possible to achieve anything I desired. I unleashed a new energy inside of me that was trapped under the fear, doubt and confusion I had previously felt. The mind creates our limits, and with practice we can remove our self-sabotaging limitations and achieve more. We are all human. If another human can do something, why can’t I? I realised that the only reason I wasn’t achieving my potential already was because I hadn’t decided what it was that I really wanted, and I had committed to making it happen. I’ve never believed in having a plan B - It takes energy away from plan A and distracts us. I didn’t just have a plan B, I had plan C,D,E,F and G. I was so afraid of failing again, either in my business or in my relationship that I was completely paralysed mentally. Although I was watching motivational videos, reading book after book, and running 5-10k per day, even though I had developed my own personal mantra and morning ritual, I hadn’t truly implemented all that I had learnt. It was all very much still on the surface. Attending the 7-day silent retreat helped me cement all that I had learnt and gave me a new energy to make things happen.
If you want to try one for yourself, here is a link to the retreat I attended: dopa haven.weebly.com. It’s completely free (apart from flights and a donation if you choose to give one). A word of warning for you though, unless you keep this discipline when you return home, you will eventually lose the energy it unleashes. I’m honest enough to speak from personal experience on this one. I didn’t continue my mediation practice and eventually I ran out of energy. Personally, I’m glad this happened to me as it forced me to find other methods that would shift my perception more permanently. Doing so has given me the tools to advise my clients on many techniques, rather then just mediation. It’s not for everyone.