This is the first episode in a journal chronicling my silent journey during Silent Awakenings.
MONDAY – EPSIODE ONE
This is the fourth day that I’ve been here at Asilomar Conference Center, which is on the Monterey Peninsula in Pacific Grove, California. It is rustic and beautiful, the intersection of forest and beach. I am staying at Stuck Up Inn, a cabin at Asilomar. The history of Asilomar is pretty cool. Famed architect Julia Morgan, of Hearst Castle fame, designed many of the buildings on the compound. Especially cool is the story of the kick-ass Stuck Ups, young women who worked at Asilomar every summer. I arrived on Friday for a teacher’s retreat for Chopra Certified Teachers. (I am a certified Perfect Health: Ayurvedic Lifestyle teacher.) The teacher’s retreat lasted from Friday until mid-day Sunday. I thought the silent retreat started then, but it didn’t start officially until Monday, so I had more chatting time with my girlfriends and fellow Chopra Certified Teachers.
As mentioned in my earlier blog Preparing for Silence, I’d been nervous about this silent retreat for almost a year. All nerves left, though, when I arrived on Friday. Is it because I am in the safety of some of my teacher friends? Is it because there’s really nothing I can do about it now? Is it because there really is nothing to be nervous about? I have no idea why. I simply felt calm and open. I’m was ready.
While I wasn’t worried about separation anxiety, I was aware that I would miss my husband, girls and cats tremendously. Even though both my girls, Isabella and Maddie, live in Oregon, we snapchat, text and/or call every day. I am very connected to them. My husband Bill and I are connected every day, even when he’s traveling. I’m most concerned about my fur babies, Alice and Rosie. All my cats know is that I am gone, not why. The humans understand, but the cats don’t.
The Chopra Center suggested that in addition to silence, we also disconnect from technology. I am not looking at my phone for texts, emails, social media, or any forms of communication with my family or anyone. (I did ask my family to text me whenever they think about me so I can read them all when I am done next Sunday.) I am using phone for my alarm clock and as a camera if I specifically want to go on a photo walk. At those times, it is on airplane mode, so I don’t hear any notifications. Otherwise, it’ll be in my room in a drawer. I’m also journaling on my Surface because, ever since breaking my (dominant) right wrist in half, it hurts when I write a lot. I created a Word doc ahead of time, so I’m not even connected to the Internet when it is turned on. Compared to my “normal” life, I’m about 98% unplugged from tech.
I woke up at 5am and did a short meditation in my room then went for a walk on the boardwalk through the dunes. It was dark, so I had my flashlight. The skies were very cloudy, as usual, here in Monterey, so even when the sun rose, it was gray and dim. There wasn’t a big breeze, so the clouds kept it somewhat warm (Of course I was in a scarf, sweatshirt, and gloves. No hat meant it was warm for me. My husband would have been in shorts, no socks but a sweatshirt for comparison.) I enjoyed watching the dune plants slowly appear as it became lighter and lighter. The rising sun revealed about 50 different shades of gray in the sky, but never revealed itself. My footsteps seemed to keep in tune with the pounding of the surf. I could’ve kept walking and walking; it was so calming.
Meditation – I had such a hard time during our first group meditation this morning. I was tired because I haven’t been sleeping well since I arrived. (I, one of the tallest women in the group, am staying in a room with two what seem to be extra short twin beds with very squishy mattresses. My other teacher friends, who on average are about 5’ 2” tall, all have full, queen or king beds.) I silently repeated my mantra to myself but kept focusing on the brilliant violet-white lights that were putting on a show behind my eyelids. I could feel and hear my blood pulsing and my heart beating in my body. Thoughts kept coming in. I tried harder to concentrate and began to get a headache.
Hello Deepak – Deepak Chopra gave us an opening introduction. He suggested that today we bring our awareness to sound, which unknowingly I already had. Take away one sensation, like speech, and your other sensations seem heightened. On the way to the morning session, in fact, I was going to take a 30-minute walk on the beach but instead was captivated by the sound of a woodpecker. I searched the Monterey Pines along the trail from my cabin and found the cute little redhead pecking away on a pine tree not 10 feet away from me. He seemed to have joy in the pecking. I found my self smiling as I watched and listened to the different sounds made as he pecked his way all the way down one side of the tree and then shimmied to the side and started up again.
After Deepak’s intro, we had a 75-minute break. I felt the need for a short nap, which is generally hard for me because my mind starts to think or make lists, and noises bother me. I fell asleep hard for two hours, missing yoga. I’m glad I listened to my body.
Meditation 2.0 – My second group meditation session was so different from the first. I didn’t try. I didn’t concentrate. At the beginning of Primordial Sound Meditation (PSM) – the type of meditation Deepak teaches and I practice, among others – we ask ourselves four soul questions. Who am I? What do I want? What is my Dharma (purpose)? What am I grateful for? When I teach meditation, I always tell my students to be open to whatever comes up here, even if nothing comes up. Often, we ask ourselves these questions during meditation, but they are answered elsewhere during our days. Frankly, no real answers have floated to the surface for me in two years of practicing PSM. This morning when I asked myself “Who am I,” the answer was a loud and clear, “I am I.” Wow.
“I am I” means that I am pure consciousness. I am everything; everything is me. I don’t need labels like wife, mom, businesswoman, animal lover. I simply am I, and I am enough, always.
“Discovering your dharma isn’t a one-time effort. It’s an ever-evolving process that depends above all on expanding your self-awareness.” – Deepak Chopra
Awakening of Dharma – Our session this afternoon was on the Awakening of Dharma. Dharma means purpose. When we ask this in meditation was ask how we can help our community. Coincidentally, I’ve been a bit stuck on dharma lately, wondering what my true purpose is. In our session today, we talked about letting go of the conditioning that we should know exactly what our dharma is, how to make it happen, and make it our life’s career. Instead, we can realize that dharma is simply an aspect of being. It isn’t something we need to seek or do. Instead it is something to which we should be open; it is our opportunity to be a vessel for the betterment of the universe. What makes us feel alive and happy is an expression of our dharma. Dharma is part of self-awareness and is aligning with our true nature. I think Paul McCartney defined dharma the best with “Let it be.”
“Your essence is the heart of your existence. Your dharma is who you are. From your essence arise your intentions. Your intentions drive your thoughts. Your thoughts give rise to your words. Your words…become habits of behavior. Your habits of behavior manifest as your contribution to the world. This is your dharma.” David Simon
Food – We are eating all our meals in silence and, while the food is really yummy, I think it tastes especially delicious because of the fact we are eating it in silence. I’m not distracted by conversation, the television, or reading. I’m not putting another bite of food onto my fork until I’ve fully chewed and enjoyed the current bite. On a purely selfish note, I’m happy to discover that the food isn’t only vegetarian because I am not. However, I am making sure to eat more veggies on my plate since this area is called the salad bowl of California. The veggies are super fresh and cooked so well, as is everything. (This is Chef Ro giving a shout out to the executive chef who, by the way, is on the serving line every morning for breakfast with a smile and good morning for each of us. I’m impressed.)
The Silent Witness – During the day, we can write down questions – about anything – for Deepak to answer every evening during Satsang, which is a gathering with righteous companions; basically coffee-talk with Deepak. Then he usually has a little nugget that he leaves us with before bed, and suggestions on what to be aware of the next day.
Tonight, Deepak spoke about The Silent Witness. The Silent Witness is the “I” that I spoke about earlier. If you believe, as I do, that we are all part of a collective consciousness, then that means that we have what you can call an unborn self (the collective consciousness or I) and the born self (the body you can see and feel right now, also called the bodymind). Our bodies, everything that we see, touch, feel, or smell, are all experiences of the I or collective consciousness. Objects are combinations of sensory experiences. Emotions are thoughts linked to sensations. All experience comes and goes. As Deepak says, “If you think of yourself as a bodymind, essentially you’re screwed.”
Deepak suggested that this week we:
- Resist giving experiences a label. Resist the conditioning we’ve learned since being born.
- Deconstruct experience into reality.
- Observe without interpretation.
- Ask what is observing? The Silent Witness (I) is observing.
Deepak left us with this: “Every experience can be traced back to The Silent Witness.” As comedian John Mulllaney in Kid Gorgeous says, “We don’t have time to unpack all of that right now,” but hopefully we will as the week unfolds.
So Far So Good – In the books I read prior to coming here about first-hand experiences with silent retreats, everyone told tales of torture for the first few days and then breakthroughs and bliss. Honestly today wasn’t difficult at all with the silence. It will be interesting to see how this experience unfolds. The next few days we are programed from 6:15am until 8:30 or 9pm every night. I need to prepare my nesting material to stay warm during sunrise meditation outside tomorrow morning. Towels and blankets from my room will be joining me. Here’s a reason to be thankful that I have a second tiny bed.
Annoying Noise That Rips Through the Silence – Chairs scooting on the wooden floor in the dining room.
About the Author
Rochelle Barcellona is an animal-loving, family-and-friends-embracing, yoga-nidra-meditation-and-ayurveda-teaching, happy red-headed yogi who owns Nourish Mind Body & Spirit in Northern California. You may learn more about Rochelle here. Rochelle may be reached directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and 916-353-5200.