Mindfulness in the Dutch Countryside
Windmills, cows, farms and… a silent mindfulness retreat. I had always been curious about spending time in silence, focusing on meditation, self-observance and rest. A while ago, I finally found the courage to take that step. I booked myself a weekend of mindfulness in the Dutch countryside. It turned out to be my first silent retreat of many to come.
The retreat was in an old farm building. Getting there was actually already a bit of a challenge for me–I had to get there by car, and I am not an experienced driver. It took me two hours, several drops of sweat and a few wrong turns before I finally got there. By then the other participants had already arrived and had started their dinner. Oops!
After dinner we all sat down together for introductions. Our mindfulness teacher explained what the retreat would entail, and we all got a chance to introduce ourselves. “We are human beings,” she emphasized, “not human doings.” Then the silence started. We would not speak another word for the next 48 hours, which seemed quite challenging to me. Not necessarily because I would feel the urge to talk, but because sleeping in a dormitory and sharing a bathroom must require verbal interaction at some point–at least, so I thought.
As I surrendered more and more to my existence as a human being rather than a human doing, I felt myself become calmer. There was so much time, so much space.
An awkward evening and a night of good sleep later and I could tell that the whole group was getting into the mood. People went for a walk on their own, read books, wrote their thoughts down and relaxed on the couch. What a great way to spend the weekend! I would not be alone yet I would still be getting the rest that I usually only get from spending time on my own. It is an introvert thing. Everything just flowed effortlessly from that point on. And guess what? There was no need to talk to my roommates about the practical stuff.
Those 48 hours were also spent in meditation and on the yoga mat. At the time I thought the 30-minute meditation sessions were quite tough. I could not focus and my back started to protest after a mere five minutes. Thankfully the teacher provided great guidance. The pain and lack of concentration hung around, but at the same time I could find some peace in that, or at least was starting to. The practical and no-nonsense approach to mindfulness worked for me.
As I surrendered more and more to my existence as a human being rather than a human doing, I felt myself become calmer. There was so much time, so much space. I walked into one of the green fields that surrounded the farm, aware of the grass beneath my feet, the sounds of the birds and my own breath. No pressure, expectations or inner dictator yelling orders at me. Just being.
At the end of the retreat, the teacher gave us the opportunity to share our experience. Sometimes people’s experiences surprised me. There was gratitude, there were tears and there was more silence. Breaking the silence felt weird. It had been such bliss not having to speak that I dreaded letting go of it.
My drive back home was not nearly as frustrating as the way there had been. I even felt confident giving one of the other participants a ride home. I dropped the car at my parents’ and rode my bike back to my own home. I noticed details that I had never noticed before: the wind on my face, the individual leaves on the trees, the movement of my legs. Usually I would listen to music while riding my bike to kill time. Now there was no need for that. I was happy simply being on my bike.
One weekend of mindfulness on the Dutch countryside might not be enough to reach enlightenment. It is, however, enough to take a step back from daily life, to get some perspective. And to realize that sometimes observing and being is enough to experience the simple joys of life.