Emma is a student in our Mindful Studies class at Wilson High in Portland, Oregon. For the class's final project each student did a 4-hour retreat in silence, employing the mindfulness tools they've learned in class.They later wrote a paper on the experience. In Emma's paper she writes of the loss of her friend 'S', who died by suicide.
At exactly ten a.m. I started my retreat. I was extremely nervous and was positive that I could not sit for four hours straight. My anxiety was kicking in as I imagined myself falling asleep and eventually failing the class. My main concern was disappointing everyone, I didn’t want anyone to have high expectations, not even myself. I tried meditating for the first ten minutes but eventually gave up, my head was in a flurry. I was fighting my thoughts instead of accepting them. I moved on from that failed attempt and started my body scan. The body scan was incredibly relaxing and by the time I was done I had no idea how much time had passed, almost as if in a trance. Words cannot describe how I felt, my worries had vanished and I was now in a state of peace. Before I knew it, my stomach was grumbling. A voice inside me screamed, “FOOOODDD.”
When I first was walking to the “eating area” I was antsy and secretly hoping that we would all talk and share stories of our first two hours. However once I reached the room, silence overcame me and I no longer felt that need to talk. I was comfortable without the constant chatter of a usual lunch. It felt good and I was no longer hearing that voice in the back of my head. I ate slowly, not to starve myself or make the time go by, but to actually taste my food. To feel the textures on my tongue as I put each piece in my mouth. I smiled as the realization hit me, I actually love vegetables. It was not hard being quiet, I was content and felt at one with myself. I enjoyed the presence of another human even if we were not talking. I think back to it now and wonder why I wasn’t worried about people hearing me chew or even swallow. Was it because I was in such a state of euphoria that I didn’t even notice? Or maybe because I trusted these people, strangers, to not pose judgment on me? I certainly heard other people chewing, but it wasn’t bothersome, in fact it was almost calming. A background noise to my own thoughts as I searched my food for a story. While I was eating I was thinking about where my vegetables came from, where they grew, how they got into my pasta. After all it must have been a long journey.
As I made the journey back to the room my head was clear and I was feeling up to do something new. Around 12:20 I reached my room and went right into a breathing activity. I closed my eyes and focused on the breath, I counted my exhales all the way up to seven and then back down again. If at any point I wasn’t sure what number I was on I started all over again. When I was done I once again was not aware of the time, but felt at peace with myself and my choices. At one pm I journaled my thoughts. They went a little like this, “Everything will not always be okay, comfortable, the way I want it and I am okay with that. Not everyone will like me and I am okay with that because I do not like everybody. I do not need a boyfriend or a ton of dates to feel special. That does not define me. I am happy with myself and who I have come to be.”
Around 1:15 I mindfully drew and wrote this response, “I watched my hand make each shape, each line. At first I was just doodling but then I would start to see something and go with that image. While drawing I was also mindfully breathing, again from one to seven and back down again. Am I doing this right?” I then went into some yoga poses that were on my flash cards. I put the cushion under my lower back and slowly rolled down. While in this position I used a new breathing technique. For this I would inhale for five seconds, hold for five seconds, exhale for five seconds then hold for five seconds. I did this all the way up to ten and then back down again. I did this exercise in two other yoga positions, child’s pose and bridge. After, I then once again tried sitting meditation.
For the last thirty minutes of retreat I wrote about whatever came to mind. “I feel content with myself. I feel grateful and at peace. I feel that yoga and meditation have given me a new look on life. I am relaxed and not distressed. I feel in control for once in my life, like I am stepping out of this hole. A hole with nothing but monsters lurking in the shadows. Throughout this whole experience I haven’t once forgotten about S____. I keep thinking to myself, if she was taking this class, would she be here today, would it help her escape a black hole like the one that I was once in? Then I remember, she couldn’t sit, she was a runner. She would have probably been passing notes through a crack in the door, giggling about the silence because she was not comfortable in it. Meditation has really helped me cope with the loss of her. At first I was so angry, but I understand why and accept the fact that she was not happy; no matter how hard she tried to pretend to be. I will never fully accept that she is gone. She is in my thoughts every day, every hour and every minute.” Being on my own for so long left me to think a lot and I have realized a lot about myself and who I have become as I grow up. I used this time to reflect on my past and my future, to learn to accept what has happened and what will happen, for the time being I am at peace.
My four hour retreat was hands down the best experience I’ve ever had. I didn’t feel that urge to be on my phone or talk to anybody, I was comfortable in the silence. I took this time to really step out of the everyday life schedule and focus on me and my needs. I cleared my mind and left the stress behind, taking that weight off my shoulder even if it was only for a little bit. I have noticed throughout the year that my anxiety is slowly diminishing along with my constant negative self-talk. As a whole I feel better than I have in a long time. I think I will be taking time out of my week or even my day for a retreat of my own from now on.