Silent Meditation Retreat with Tara Brach: The Real Deal with Shanshan Mei
Tell us about yourself! What do you do when you’re not traveling the world? Where are you from? Where do you currently live?
I’m a 25-year-old social media editor at a food media company called Panna Cooking. I was born in China, and I now live in New York City.
What kind of retreat did you participate in? Where was it located? How did you spend your time there?
I participated in a Labor Day weekend three-day silent meditation retreat taught by meditation instructor Tara Brach. It was run through the Insight Meditation Community of Washington, and the retreat was located at the Meadowkirk Retreat Center.
The three days had a pretty similar schedule: I got up at 6 a.m. in the morning, participated in a series of sitting and walking meditations–each 45 minutes long. There was a lecture held at 9 a.m. every morning, and a themed dharma talk during one of the afternoons. I also had a one-on-one conversation with one of the teachers.
What made you decide to participate in the retreat?
It was my first meditation experience. The months prior were crazy. I got fired by a company that I invested all my time and emotion into, and my work visa application was rejected by the immigration office. I began to question my professional ability, as well as the future of my life. My mind was going crazy.
Then I met my current boss, David Ellner. He recruited me to do his company’s social media. In one of our early conversations, we talked about the meaning of life. He saw my anxiety and learned my story. He said meditation helped him solve his problem, and it might be helpful for me. Tara Brach was his friend, so I chose to start the experience with her.
What were the highlights of the retreat? What disappointed you about the retreat?
Highlights: the one-on-one conversation with the teacher was the most meaningful part for me. By sharing what brought me to the retreat, Tara was able to coach me to dive into myself and examine my deepest need.
Disappointment: the food. Everything was great except the food. Meals were mostly steamed cabbage with salsa sauce, a hard boiled egg, steamed potatoes, and salads. I remember that for one of the lunches, we had steamed salmon, and we were thrilled. Then later that day for dinner, the retreat center served the exact same salmon again, except this time it was cold and obviously leftover from the lunch.
How, if at all, did the retreat change you? Were there new practices you incorporated into your life following the retreat?
The most life-changing part for me was learning not to trust my thoughts. Not to react to them, but observe and accept them as they are. If I find myself feeling anxiety or anger, I need to examine my deepest need that’s not being fulfilled at that moment, then take time to acknowledge it and move on.
Ever since the retreat, I start everyday with a 20-minute meditation. I ask myself one simple question: how am I really feeling today? If I feel anxious, then I’ll ask myself why. I examine my needs, accept them, and keep focusing on breathing.
What are some of the benefits of participating in a retreat? What are some of the downsides? Would you participate in another retreat?
Benefits: The group environment. It’s hard to be silent for days without being distracted if I’m just by myself. By having all of the like-minded people sitting together, you develop a sense that you’re not alone in your struggles. Everyone has them, and that’s okay.
Downsides: chanting. There are people who are hard-core meditators and really into this religious path. I walked in this retreat without knowing what to expect–and maybe even some skepticism. The chanting part threw me off because it felt like it alienated people instead of bring them together.
Are there any tips you’d give someone else who is considering a similar retreat?
After learning that I participated in a three-day silent meditation retreat, most of my friends responded “Oh my god, that must have sucked. I don’t know how to go three days without talking.”
The truth is, you’d be amazed by how chatty your mind can be, and how fast time can pass if you just observe the conversations in your head. I had so much fear before joining the retreat, and it really wasn’t that hard.
Photo credit: Kevin N