The Mindfulness Diaries: How I Survived My First Nine-Day Silent Meditation Retreat by Jennifer Howd
Could you be completely silent for nine days?
What exactly is “mindfulness”, and why would anyone want to go on a nine-day silent meditation retreat?!
First, the definition of mindfulness—“…mindfulness practice is, at its core, fundamentally all about quieting our minds, opening our hearts and being as aware as possible in our lives.”
Now as to why anyone would want to go on a nine-day silent retreat--how about as a 40th birthday present to yourself. That’s exactly what Jennifer Howd, the author of this book and a mindfulness facilitator, did after her partner, Kate, kept asking her what she wanted to do to celebrate.
So, you may be asking, what’s involved with participating in a silent retreat—“Everyone agrees to take a vow of “noble silence”…this means no cell phones or checking e-mails. This also means no talking with each other. And,…no eye contact, hand gesturing or writing notes to each other….”
Jennifer came to do this retreat because she was attending a ten-month intensive practice program at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center and needed to attend an Insight Meditation Retreat as a course requirement. She settled on a Spring Insight Retreat at the Joshua Tree Retreat Center in Yucca Valley, CA. Of course, the retreat was full, which brought up what she calls her “Shit”. She defines “Shit” as “….essentially, a buildup of emotional debris, the byproduct of previously wounded, unhealed parts of myself that feel uncomfortable being vulnerable (thus often lashing out, complaining, catastrophizing, bitching, whining, moaning, judging and/or criticizing both myself and others in an effort to avoid it).” “Shit” is a recurring character in this story! Six weeks after her inquiry, the retreat has an opening, and she’s off on an adventure.
As soon as she arrives at the retreat, she notices her throat getting scratchy. Then she remembers her partner mentioning that strep throat was going around in her office. On top of that, Jennifer is very anxious about everything having to do with the retreat. She wakes up the first full morning “sick as a dog” and remains sick for the entire retreat. This brings up quite a bit of “Shit”, especially when a woman sits next to her and makes different noises disturbing Jennifer’s concentration. The next day she moves, and she’s so sick, she disturbs everyone else’s meditation experience!
Jennifer learns several big “lessons” during her retreat-- “…how the overlapping circles of our experiences interconnect….we’re all mirrors for each other…..”, and, “I can choose to focus on the ugliness or the beauty-in life. The choice is up to me.” There are many others. You’ll just have to read the book to find out what they are!
I enjoyed reading “The Mindfulness Diaries”. We’ve all been in Jennifer’s shoes at one time or another in our lives. We all have “Shit” that we need to deal with and let go of. Jennifer provides a road map for us to get started along with valuable insights in to her own character and mindfulness as an on-going practice.
You can order the book from Amazon.