9 -Day Silent Meditation Retreat
Ever since I heard about silent meditation retreats, I have SO wanted to experience one. I eagerly asked for details about Vipassana retreats from a couple friends. When I heard the MA MATH was conducting silent retreats in Amritapuri, I was determined to attend as soon as I could.
I arrived at Amritapuri on Dec. 19th 2019. There was a 5-Day Silent Retreat notice up on the Information Board ,exactly what I wanted,but this was the busiest time in the Western Café where I do my seva, so I waited until after the holidays. Finally, a new notice was posted, 9-Day Silent Meditation Retreat Jan 8-17. My flight back to the U.S. was scheduled for Jan 17th. When I registered, they said I could leave early, but it really isn’t advised. “It is best to have a couple days to gradually integrate the benefits,” Gunamayi said.‘It could be a jolt and a bit of a shock to go straight to the airport.” I changed my return ticket. I had this intuitive expectation that this experience would be major for me, and it truly was.
The Seva Team
I must start my story with humble appreciation for the seva team. Every thought was taken for our comfort and ease by the five person team. The daily schedule was posted on the wall, so there was no need to ask questions or let the mind fixate on uncertainty. A bell was used to signal time to move from one activity to the next, which was managed seamlessly and gracefully.The food options, gathered from all the choices in the ashram, were beautifully displayed and labeled. They even set the fans at three different speeds to accommodate our preferences. On one side of the room the fans were off, in the middle at low speed, and on the other side, fans twirled briskly.
Most impressive for me was the team’s approach to their seva. I marveled at the qualities each team member displayed, saying to myself: this is how we all should be in doing seva for Amma.Their devotion was palpable,creating the conditions for a sacred experience. Our two facilitators, Vinod and Haran, shared personal stories from years of living with Amma, both beautiful, amazing and funny. Rasya’s opening prayers were done with a reverence that invoked a parallel response from the participants.The bright, airy and immaculately clean space was invisibly maintained by Dharmasheelan, and Yadukrishnan stood attentively by each meal like a solicitous maitre’d.
Sitting Meditation Practice
We started off following the breath, with Amma’s Ma-Om meditation practice. Haran or Vinod would guide us, with perfect timing. We received gentle reminders to stay relaxed, to keep our spine straight, to stay with the breath. Our sitting meditations were in ½ hour intervals, followed by ½ hour mindful walking meditation.
We were guided to watch our mind, to allow the thoughts to come and go; instructions familiar from Amma and the Swamis leading meditations. The setting and the slow pace supported a deepening over several days. Interspersed with the practice, Vinod and Haran shared Amma teachings about meditation, the mind, and the power of relaxation. By the third day, we continued this practice with no instruction, absolute silence as we followed the bell to move from sitting meditation to walking mediation to refreshment break, etc.
Watching the Mind
Amma devotees are aware of Amma’s guidance to live in the present. She often speaks about how the mind is always in the past or in the future. Our life occurs ONLY in the present, our right action can occur only in the present, awareness exists in the present.
So, as we were doing our sitting meditation, or our walking meditation, or while we were eating, we watched the mind as observers. My goodness! Everything going through my head was either replaying something from the past or imagining something in the future! 90% of the time. The task was to notice this and return to the breath, return to the sensations in the present and return to the Ma-Om vibrations.
In the movie, A Beautiful Mind, Russell Crowe plays John Nash, winner of a Nobel Prize in economics. Brilliant and completely crazy. John lived in a fantasy world, totally obsessed with his schizophrenic illusions, complete with imminent danger and a heroic plot that only he can carry out. Watching my mind all day, labeling and dismissing the incessant thoughts of the future or the past, I realized my mind was only slightly different from that of a schizophrenic.
Awareness of Subtle Energy
On day four and five, we were guided to move into awareness of the body’s subtle energy, the vibrations. This was supported by the daily yoga, which cleared channels of energy in the body, supporting alignment and centeredness. By now, when I began the Ma-Om meditation, I would immediately feel the subtle energy, my hands would get very warm and I would feel pulsations in my body. Like whilst sitting in Amma’s presence, I would experience being energy more than being matter. This happened quickly and consistently for me during these beautiful days of silent internal focus.
If this retreat had ended on day five, I would have been quite happy and content with this deep and beautiful experience. Fortunate for me, this retreat was a full nine days, and the team took us deeper.
I Am Not…
In the movie A Beautiful Mind, John Nash’s doctor, his wife, his colleagues, all tell him his illusions are not real. They show him proof – he had no roommate in college. John Nash is unable to believe it. He sees these people; they are his friends! Their personalities are whole and vivid. Eventually he has a breakthrough when he realizes: wait a minute – the little girl never gets older. Over all these years, she is still exactly the same young girl. She can’t be real! Finally, this logic penetrates, and he understands they are illusions.
This is what happened for me with this combination of days meditating and maintaining silence, along with experiential dwelling in subtle awareness, and now they added in the logic. We were blessed with two talks on Vedanta by Brahmachari Shraddhamrita, a teacher at one of Amma’s universities. In his delightful lectures, he walked us through a few foundational tenets.
What is real and what is unreal? If what is real are things that do not change, then all these temporary manifestations that come and go are unreal. They are part of Maya. Br. Shraddhamrita walked us through the concepts with a simplicity that we could follow. As I lay in bed that night, I was left with a familiar question : If I am not the body, if I am not the mind, if I am not the personality; what else is there?
The next day, Haran brought it home. During our sitting meditation, he stated: “I am the Awareness that hasn’t changed since childhood.” In a flash, I connected with this. I know this continuity… the body has grown, the mind has added information and skills and has stored all these experiences, the personality has changed (thank God). But this Awareness is the same, energetically, I am the same as that serious, self-contained little girl of so many decades ago.
I realized this subtle energy is my essence, this is my essential nature. I have over the years had experiences, especially in Amma’s presence, of being Aware of this essence. I interpreted this as Amma filling my body, Amma entering my puja room… and yes, it is Amma. But now I caught a glimpse that this energy is also me. I thought of what Amma has said so often that we are the same as Her. There is no separation, there is no difference. Wow.
Walking around the ashram, grateful for my “In Silence” badge, I contemplated this truth anew. All of us are made up of this same, pulsing energy. We are all God-stuff. Amma has been telling us this so many times! I feel embarrassed to be so excited about finally ‘getting it’. I have been a devotee for 14 years! Yet all I can be now is thankful. Finally, a glimmer of awareness.