Back in February 2015 I went on my second 10-Day silent meditation retreat. To get a general sense of what a silent meditation is read this first.
The retreat center in Joshua Tree opened its doors in 2011 so it’s practically brand new. As an ‘old student’, meaning I had already completed a 10-day retreat in the past, I got a dorm room all to myself. The dorms were comfortable and clean. I even had my own bathroom.
One of the rules (and there are several) is to not bring outside food with you to the Center. All meals are vegetarian and buffet style. I was really worried that I wouldn’t get all the protein I needed to make my #gainz so I stashed protein powder, my Blender Bottle, and a couple of protein bars in my suitcase.
Breakfast is mostly carbs like fruit, bread, oatmeal, and stewed prunes. I toasted Ezekiel bread and topped with 1-2 TB of peanut butter and sunflower seeds OR butter and a layer of nutritional yeast.
Lunch is the best meal of the day! Some items in the lunch buffet include Moroccan tagine, fried rice, marinated tofu, daal, rice, steamed veggies, and a legit salad bar. Dinner is fruit and tea. I drank all sorts of teas like chamomile (to calm the nerves and aid in digestion), peppermint and ginger (to prevent gas), green tea (slightly increases body temperature which increases metabolism), and a new tea I discovered called Bengal Spice. The name says it all.
I lost three pounds (probably all water) within the first two days. How did I know that? I brought my scale with me. I hid it underneath my bed and would weigh myself every morning before taking my first sip of water.
Let’s move on to technology. No cell phones. They have to be locked up in a closet by a staff member before the retreat begins. I learned that you cannot be forced to give up your phone, so I kept mine in my room on silent. Yes, I checked it. Everyday. Multiple times a day. I had just started using an app called MyFitnessPal. It tracks your meals and calories, and I was diligent/obsessed with getting my macronutrient ratio of 40% fats to 35% protein to 25% carbohydrates dialed in. While there is a cornucopia of carbohydrates offered, you have to hunt for the healthy fats and protein. Even though I enjoyed their marinated tofu, which kind of reminds me of eating weak ass mini steaks, I tried to stay away from soy in general. I also checked my email often. I sheepishly admit that I watched a ‘Ballet Beautiful’ workout on YouTube….a couple of times, listened to a Sam Harris podcast, took some photos, and sent some texts.
Walking is the only approved exercise. The Center is even weird about yoga because they “do not currently have an approved facility for a yoga practice,” although yoga is considered compatible with Vipassana otherwise. The Center at Joshua Tree is fortunate enough to have a walking path that is made out of rocks and sand and is about a quarter mile in length. I went into business mode after lunch and would chalk up several laps on the walking path. It started as a compulsion to get my cardio in every day. After several days of that I chilled the fuck out and slowed down as there was, “Nothing to do, nowhere to go.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
With that said, I also did squats, sit-ups, push-ups, wall walks, and Ballet Beautiful (of course), when in the privacy of my own room.
Does sitting up tall with an erect spine, relaxed shoulders and slightly engaged core for hours and hours count towards exercise? Yes, it is an exercise of the mind – possibly the hardest exercise of them all.
It’s so dry during the day that you’ll want to pack extra lotion, face moisturizer, and chapstick.
Bring shower shoes in case you have to share a bathroom.
Turn in your damn phone to the staff at the start of the retreat. Just do it. If there is a true emergency then make sure to give the Center’s phone number to your emergency contact.
If you don’t have regular ‘movements’, then consider not eating all the kale, broccoli, cauliflower, chick peas, and beans. You’re going to be sitting for many hours in the quietest meditation hall ever with at least 80 other humans. We hear and smell everything and we know who you are.
Dress appropriately. You have to cover your legs past your knees and your arms past your shoulders. No leggings or tights – Leave the Lululemon at home (unless it’s loose fitting and not revealing). Check the forecast and wear white or light colors during the summer and always bring layers. It could be super hot or super cold outside on the same day. The temperature in the meditation hall fluctuates, so bring a lightweight, thin scarf to drape over your head. This will give you a little more privacy and keep your head at the perfect temperature. These conditions will make it that much easier for you to get in the zone.
Bring flip flops or sandals – you want to have a pair of shoes that are easy to slip on and off.
Bring a meditation cushion/zafu and practice on it for a few days at home before you start your retreat.
I don’t want to reveal too much more as we’ve arrived at the actual exciting part: the meditation. That is for you to experience. Now that I’ve given you the low down on what to expect at the Center you know that this is totally doable and even enticing. It is up to you to show up, shut up, and go through a very complex, delightful, maddening, mind opening experience that is your own. I would love to hear what you discover!