This past weekend I attended a Meditation Retreat and yes, I am under a shelter-in-place order which I take very seriously. Sponsored by the UCLA Mindfulness Awareness Research Center, staffed by a dream team of experienced and tech savvy teachers, this was a multi-day mindfulness meditation retreat designed to be attended at home under circumstances far different from the pristine environments provided by silent retreat centers where silence is required and cultivated. A mindfulness meditation retreat at home happens amidst all the sounds and distractions of daily life. Life buzzes on with the unassailable sounds and distractions of your normal daily quarantined life and inevitably lines begin to blur between sitting in practice and ordinary daily life.
This retreat was far from silent. I live with my husband and in the spirit of being flexible and considerate, I assured him he did not need to avoid me or to be silent. So besides the distractions of text alerts, ambulance sirens, barking dogs and crying babies, I frequently heard television noise and not the kind of television noise I prefer. Since my husband had free run of the channels, it was a weekend packed with kickboxing tournaments, heavy artillery gun fight movies, and house improvement shows featuring motorized equipment that requires ear protection.
Still, this retreat was a get-away and filled with epiphanies just as enlightening as I have experienced attending silent retreats. At one point, I had settled in to sit in silent meditation and my husband decided it was time to wash the dishes. The sound of running water infiltrated what was supposed to be time for me to be mindfully sitting in silence. I observed my reaction as I listened to the sound of him washing dishes. Annoyance, gratitude, irritation, agitation, shame, restlessness, curiosity. The at-home retreat has an ability to extinguish the boundary line between sitting in meditation and the rest of your life in a way a traditional silent retreat cannot.
The retreat schedule brought structured time into my weekend and this in and of itself was a gift. The day started with gentle yoga, sitting in silence and then a period of mindful eating. The mindful eating practice was actually a practice of observing desire and its physical and observable effect on the body. The facilitator, Cara Lai, explored the intensity of the feeing of desire as I wrestled with my desire to shovel bites of food into my mouth. She observed that part of the pull to consume the food was to extinguish the discomfort of wanting. The rest of the day was filled with traditional sitting and walking meditations as well as workshops exploring dance, qigong, mindful chores, nature walks and other mindful activities. There were even breakout groups where we shared our experiences and a late-night last-night dance party.
The beauty of that at-home mindfulness retreat experience is its accessibility. You wouldn’t even have to have ever practiced meditation at all to dip a toe in the water and experience some level of mindfulness meditation practice while in the privacy of your own home. I looking forward to my future self explaining how before the Pandemic we used to have to travel to one of the coasts in order to have an immersive meditation retreat experience.