10 Days of Silence

Trip Start Apr 07, 2010
Trip End Sep 11, 2010

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Flag of United Kingdom  , England,
Sunday, July 4, 2010

At the suggestion of my Dr. in Seattle,  I enrolled in a 10 day silent meditation retreat.  June 23rd I arrived at the Dhamma Dipa center outside of London, thoughts of 4 am wake ups, 2 meals a day, and 10 hours of seated meditation loomed overhead.  There was to be no reading, no writing, no music - no information coming in.  Just me and my thoughts for 10 whole days learning the calming techniques of the mind from the genius of Gottama the Buddha.  

The first 2 days I felt like a withered middle eastern cat, skin and bones carting around an empty stomach like a ball and chain.  WHAT was I doing here?  Sitting in meditation my speeding and chaotic thoughts felt something like Nascar meets driving in India.  "Focus on the triangular area above your lip and below your nose."  Got it.  Three breaths later I've started a 3 minute mental journey that takes me to a Tori Amos concert, the streets of Cairo, opening presents on Christmas in Kentucky, visions of pizza, walking down the aisle on my wedding, my college Spanish class, and the visit to Norway on Tuesday, all while hearing Elton John's "The Way You Look Tonight" humming at a low volume somewhere in the Lori's mental playlist of doom.  My own private Delorean whizzing me, for all rational purposes, practically a hallucinogenic trip with no concern for my own sanity or the fact that I'm trying to MEDITATE PEOPLE. 

The voices grew louder.  I realized that even tho I wasn't talking to anyone, I felt at all moments I had 10 birds on my shoulder telling me this or that, what they thought about this person's shoes, the way this person brushed their teeth, the fear I should have about this future event or that, the shame I should have at this past event or that.  Silence was no where to be found.  My own human instinct to create judgements leached onto each thought like a slug.  One day in meditation, breathing in breathing out, "Dude who has the girly lotion on - I can't breathe!!!  I bet it's that chick in pink to my left.  Gross.  I hate her."  Put my scarf very obviously and obnoxiously around my face.  Then I realized, crap...maybe it's that stuff I tried today in the community toiletries bin...(sniffing my leg)....Uh oh......yep.  It's me. 

But something started to happen on the 3rd day.  After staring into fields and flowers and the sky for hours on end, there was space in my mind that allowed phenomena to set in - memories came.  And not the flash card version we get day to day.  They were like slideshows, getting more and more fluid, until full on short films played out during my sittings.  With just the thought of something, I could sit for 15 minutes without distraction seeing in "real time" the boat my Grandpa lived on, the orange 70's print raft my parents always brought, the orange life vests, the wooden plank on the end of the deck, the rusty white ladder that dipped into the water.  15 minutes, no other thoughts of pizza, of my butt hurting, nothing. I was there.  The color of the skort set I wore as a 5 year old.  Things came like old floppies being popped into a hard drive, things filed so far back in my mind in memory that I completely believed there was no chance of ever recalling.  Healing came.  I sorted out the knots that had grown so tight, a backlog of information and emotions and images playing out one by one in the long hours of silence.

Day after day my teacher continued training us up to find the ability to stop the swirling thought and start unraveling the knots deeply rooted.  Focus the mind to sharpen it, to reel in the monkeys flying around like mad men. Focus on the breath, on the sensations on your body, tickling and cramping as we sat hour after hour, sometimes in Adhittana, determined sitting where we didn't move atl all for one hour.  Watching sensations in equality, not attaching to good or bad, changing the mental pattern of our mind that usually attaches emotion to everything we encounter in life. Our own attachments and thoughts creating layers of shackles that go so deep we don't even know in the conscious mind - just the ever present feeling of anxiety or sadness or longing.

My teacher says "Attachment = misery.  Attachment to good or bad, it creates craving or emotion.  And this always creates misery.  We must remain equanimous.  Balance of mind.  Observe.  Don't supress but don't obsess.  Balance of mind.  The thought is there, watch and let it go, like the clouds across the sun.  You are the sun, the thoughts are not you, they are passing.  Detach from the unhealthy emotion.  Find happiness."

And so I worked day after day, everyone worked.  The mental enema purged us all, and I criss crossed the thought terrain I've lived with for 27 years.  I began to find the familiar stations - fear, anxiety, craving, joy, sadness, anger, hope, hunger....all in the specific color of Lori Gerlach's pallette.  By the last day I was a bit frightened to leave my head while at the same time ready to leave my head.  Before leaving the hall when the noble silence lifted and we were allowed to talk to our fellow meditators, before leaving the cave of myself, I welled up in tears.  I had to face life with all the new things I had learned.  I was equally joyful, equally fearful, equally triumphant, equally saddened. 

Out we marched.  The wall of sound smacked us all.  We celebrated together.  Shared our experiences and laughed and wondered and realized the depth of human minds and capacity for peace in silence and sorting and focusing the mind on one thing, breathing and observing.  It has the ability to change much about our lives.  How we can begin to remain competely present in all we do, every conversation. Begin to detach unhealthy emotion from all the madness of life.

It was a success.  The kindgom within, quiet and free and given space to glow, is happy.

Bhavatu Sabba Mangalam
May All Beings Be Happy!
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Erin Hardesty on

I truly loved reading this. Isn't it a luxury to have QUIET for a few days? Have fun in Norway. I will go there someday.

crystal on

I really, really loved this Lori. What an amazing journey to be on. I think it is so special that you got to do this. Can't wait to hear how this affects the rest of your trip. Love you : )

Lesley Stern on

Woah....what could be braver than journeying deep into one's own head? Afghanistan sounds less frightening to me. Really wonderfully written too. I'm letting the jealousy pass like clouds over the sun.

pinkfloyri on

Yea it was incredible Lesley. Try it. It's called Vipassana and they have one in France I believe.

Take care :)

pinkfloyri on

Erin and Crystal. I miss you guys. Thank you for reading and for saying hello. I really need it right about now!

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