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 Nashs 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 cant 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.

Auf persönlichen Wunsch von Amma, fand das erste Amrita Stille Retreat in Deutschland im Amma Haus München statt.

Es war ein sehr inspirierendes und erfüllendes Erlebnis, sowohl für die Teilnehmer als auch für die Instruktoren und das Orgiteam.

Das Retreat begann am Freitag abend um 18 Uhr mit einem köstlichen vegetarischen Abendessen, gefolgt von den hingebungsvollen und teils feurigen Bhajans der Münchner Bhajangruppe.

Anschließend war dann der offizielle Beginn des Stille Retreats mit einleitenden Worten und Gedanken zur Stille von Bri. Sudhamayi und einer feierlichen Zeremonie in der die Stille-Anhänger überreicht wurden. Amma hat diese Stille-Anhänger speziell für diese Retreats gesegnet.

Am nächsten Morgen begann das Programm mit Meditationen abwechselnd im Gehen und im Sitzen. Diese „Sitzungen“ sind mit Anleitungen begleitet und unterstützt, um es den Teilnehmern zu erlauben, stufenweise tiefer und tiefer zu gehen. Immer wieder wurden auch Ammas inspirierende Worte eingeflechtet.

An beiden Tagen gab es auch eine Yogastunde mit Abheda, jeweils vor dem Frühstück. Die Übungen sind darauf abgestimmt, das Sitzen zu unterstützen, den Körper zu entspannen und geistige Stille zu vertiefen.

Am Abend des ersten Tages fand eine Frage Antwort Stunde statt. Die Retreatteilnehmer konnten dazu ihre Fragen aufschreiben. Bri. Sudhamayi hat diese dann, gespickt mit ihren persönlichen Erfahrungen aus all den Jahren mit Amma, beantwortet.

Die Abschlusszeremonie am Sonntag endete mit einer Runde in der es möglich war das Erlebte in Worte zu fassen wem dies ein Bedürfnis war, und so manch überfließendem Herzen Ausdruck zu verleihen.

Grundton der Beiträge war:

Große Berührtheit darüber, in Stille zu sein mit Menschen die man sonst nur sprechend kennt.

Sowie die Freude, dass Amma endlich den langjährigen Wunsch nach Stille Retreats in Deutschland erfüllt hat.

Und die Dankbarkeit, für die tiefen und gesegneten Erfahrungen:

„Ich habe das Universum in meinem Herzen gesehen und absolute Gewissheit verspürt, das nehme ich mir mit und dafür möchte ich DANKE sagen. Danke an das ganze Team, das diese Reise zu mir Selbst möglich gemacht hat.“ Stephanie, 37

„Es war ein grosses Geschenk das Retreat mitmachen zu duerfen. Ich bin so beruehrt, dass ich weinen muss“. Chandra, 42.

„Das Erlebnis nach Jahren in der Gehmeditation erstmals wieder bewusste Schritte zu setzen, ohne dem Schmerz so schnell wie möglich zu enteilen. Amma hat mir Mut gemacht.“ Sahaja, 57

„Die Meditation ist systematisch aufgebaut. Es ist wie alles bei Amma: offen für jeden Hintergrund den man bereits hat.“ Maria, 56.

Die gute Athmosphäre und die schönen Räumlichkeiten im Amma-Haus wurden als sehr unterstützend empfunden, um tiefer in die Stille zu gehen.

Alle Retreatteilnehmer waren sich einig: Ihr Wunsch nach mehr innerer Stille hat sich erfüllt.

Im Anschluss hatte jeder noch die Gelegenheit Blumen auf dem Altar zu opfern und Prasad zu empfangen.

Wir sind alle mit reich beschenktem Herzen nach Hause gegangen.

Die liebevolle und professionelle Rundumversorgung durch das Orgiteam hat für das Wohlbefinden der Teilnehmer gesorgt und den reibungslosen Ablauf sichergestellt. Mit viel Liebe und Auge fürs Detail wurde für das leibliche Wohl gesorgt. Alle Herzen und Hände waren glücklich auf irgendeine Weise an diesem Stille Retreat mitwirken zu können.

Berührendes am Rande: Eine Frau wollte sich gerne anmelden, jedoch war es ihr aus gesundheitlichen Gründen nicht möglich, das Stille Retreat mitzumachen. Sie hat sich Zuhause geistig eingeklinkt, Samstag/Sonntag aufs Fernsehen verzichtet und soviel Zeit wie möglich in Stille verbracht. Sie habe unsere Stille bei ihr Zuhause miterlebt, berichtete sie.

Bildlicher Kommentar der am Ende uebergeben wurde:

When we focus on our blessings, it creates an appreciative heart and adds a strong sense of balance to our lives. 

Amma has given us an extraordinary opportunity to grow and realize our true nature by allowing us to stay in Her ashram. She has laid out various stepping stones for us: karma yoga, puja, bhajans, archana, etc. Her most recent stepping stone is the Amrita Silent Retreats now offered at Amritapuri.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna says that a person is bound to fail in meditation if he does not strike a balance in his day-to-day activities. Eating too much or too little, for example, is not going to bring you any closer to God. Meditation can help a person overcome all sorrows, but he must eat and sleep well, work daily and find time to enjoy recreational activities, too.

We can safely say that everyone wants to be happy. Hopefully, entering the spiritual path will help us to find real happiness. First, it seems we need to be aware and present in our lives, less distracted and less scattered. Meditation is an invaluable tool to help us move in that direction. A big part of a healthy meditation practice is balance. It’s crucially important that we relax. This is a very challenging and unfamiliar concept to some people. I think of it as a big balancing scale; tranquil and interested; peace and clarity; calm and energized. This is a balancing act and within one meditation session, we can flip flop back and forth. Both aspects are needed together in harmony.

Next, in our time off the meditation cushion, we have to adjust to the many changing circumstances that we encounter in life. Karma yoga helps us in letting go of our comforts and attachments, our concepts about how things should be.

Karma yoga helps us to concentrate the mind. If we are successful in our Karma yoga we will experience the results when we sit for meditation. And conversely, if we can increase our concentration during meditation, the quality of our seva (selfless service) will increase.

So you can see how the two, meditation and karma yoga, go hand in hand, thus creating balance.

Most people in modern culture are really quite scattered. We spend a large part of everyday distracted. Actually we are addicted to these distractions. We go from one to the next without even realizing it.This can also be true for people staying in the ashram; we can get so caught up in ashram life, that we find ourselves busy non-stop, all day long.

I have been trying to balance meditation and seva for years while living in the ashram. The Amrita Silent Retreats have helped me a lot in this regard. The retreats appeal to both newcomers who are visiting for a short time, as well as ‘old-timers’ who have been around Amma or ashram residents for a while. For people just starting the spiritual path, this provides a strong foundation so that from the beginning, they can learn the importance of setting aside time to sit everyday. They also gain a lot of confidence upon completing a course. For old-timers, retreat participation is valuable because it recharges their enthusiasm for the goal. I have heard this feedback from both groups of people.

After completing an Amrita Silent Retreat, people often say that they come away with a taste for meditation. They see it’s value. They also realize that it isn’t necessary to carve out long periods of time to develop a meditation practice. We can meditate for short periods throughout the day.

Amma has designed another way for us to strive for balance and harmony in our lives. The Amrita Silent Retreats are a rich, powerful and rewarding experience – truly a gift from Amma.

The deadline for completing the new Silent Retreat website happened to coincide with Amma’s 65th birthday. Together with Deepti, a devotee from France, I’ve been working around the clock these past days to get everything ready for the launch. With hours of work remaining on the project still to be completed by this evening, it became clear that attending the Padapuja ceremony this morning would be impossible if we would meet our deadline. Feeling sad that I would not be present to see the Padapuja, I went to sit in front of the Kali murti to pray. I offered Her my disappointment and frustration. Coming out of the temple, I checked my phone. Amma’s message for September 27th, Her own birthday was this,

If you really desire Amma’s happiness, let me see you engaging yourself in activities of selfless service to bring solace and peace to the suffering people. That will be real padapuja to Amma.

Feeling encouraged by these words, I carried on with the work. An hour later, taking a small break to go down into the ashram, I was immediately greeted by a smiling brahmachari carrying a silver cup and a tiny spoon. “Padapuja!” he exclaimed, pouring a small amount of the creamy white elixir that had washed Amma’s feet into my hand. It was so sweet to taste. How to describe the gratitude and love I felt in that moment! I could feel Amma’s Presence so vividly, though She was still physically on the other side of the backwaters. Tears filled my eyes and I was rejuvenated with another powerful surge of energy and enthusiasm for the website seva.

On my way back to the hall, I immediately thought, ‘Oh no, what about Deepti – she also missed the Padapuja ceremony to do seva.’ Worried that the brahmachari would be gone, I hurried back to the place where I had seen him. There he was… standing in the same place with the same beaming smile. Of course he was! His silver cup appeared even more full than the last time I saw him. This time he poured three spoons of the padapuja water into a little cup I had brought for Deepti. I joyfully walked back to see her, wondering why he gave three spoons. ‘Lucky Deepti,’ I thought.

But at the bottom of the stairs to the Shanti Mandiram sat a little old lady who lives in the building. Obviously, she was not strong enough to make the trip over the bridge to attend the ceremony. She was seated with a young relative, perhaps her grand-daughter. I see this lady sitting in that same chair everyday on my way to and from the Silent Retreats; she just gazes out in the direction of the Kali Temple.

With the same joy as I was greeted by the brahmachari, I exclaimed to her “Padapuja!” She suddenly moved with the vigor of someone thirty years younger and opened her hand to receive Amma’s blessing. Her young relative did the same. Deepti then received the last drops of the Padapuja nectar. This is an example of how Amma takes care of Her children, a spoonful of sweetness for everyone of us.

The Silent Retreats have provided solace and peace to hundreds of people from all over the world. The positive effect of these retreats is so expansive that the Shanti Mandiram was built for us and inaugurated in Dec 2017. For Amma’s Birthday, the meditation hall that we call the Shanti Mandiram was transformed into a Noisy Mandiram, becoming accommodation for 250 village women and children from Tamil Nadu. Their joy at being brought here for Amma’s birthday may have made the hall a lot louder, but it didn’t dampen the love felt in the space at all. Whether we are shouting or are in silence, as Amma’s children, Her love is always flowing to us like sweet Padapuja water.

About 30 years ago, when I was in my early twenties, I was a typical New Zealand backpacker in India. I had spent a year in Taiwan teaching English, two rugged months in Nepal rafting and hiking, and now I had descended down onto the seemingly endless dusty plains of India to continue my journey.

I was independent minded and traveling alone suited me. Town after town, temple after temple, market after market, India was (and continues to be) a place of extreme sensory experience: I can still smell the human suffering in the slums, see the brightly colored saris of the women vendors along the roadsides, hear the persistent call of Temple bells, which represent the sound of ‘om’ they told me.

And if I ever forgot that I was far from home, the taste of the food, full flavor and exotic; and the heat, you can’t forget that, the powerful midday sun turning my skin dark brown.

Life is lived to its fullest in India. And yet without really knowing why, I began to feel a restlessness growing within me. I had been moving within the sacredness of Indian culture and somehow it allowed me to see that something was missing in my life though I didn’t know what it was.

And as the weeks passed into months I could feel this restlessness growing. Indian’s deep sense of knowing herself was showing me how little I really knew my self. I realized that I lacked a sense of inner contentment. I began to long to experience a connection with this part of myself that wanted to be happy. I needed to find a way to cross this gap…I needed a bridge.

And it was at this time that I met Amma.

Spending time with Amma it became clear that for me meditation was that bridge.

I was extremely lucky to come to Amritapuri and find such a wholesome environment for my practice to develop. I can look back and see that the ashram gave me three different kinds of support that I needed:

The first one is that Amritapuri is a sacred place that uplifts anyone who comes here…and also that it’s safe, clean and comfortable; a space where I can really relax and focus.

The second is the time to practice. This time allows me to create momentum in my practice. 

And lastly it gives me a way to be able to walk the path with other seekers; a harmonious and supportive community of friends who are practicing together…I feel like we’re all one family. 

I like to think of these as the three legs of a three-legged stool: when all three are present there’s harmony and balance; and when something’s missing, there’ll be tension and instability.

I know when my stool has all of its legs I will approach my meditation practice with confidence and patience.  

I am grateful to be part of a wonderful team who are dedicated to serving our retreat participants, encouraging them to build and cross their own inner bridge.

For me it’s a dream come true.

I have come to the conclusion that the most rewarding way to continue to build my own inner bridge is to support others build theirs!