Brooklynn is a student in our Mindful Studies class at Wilson High School in Portland, Oregon. For the final class project each teen did a 4-hour silent retreat and employed the mindfulness tools they've learned. Students later wrote a paper on their experience. Here's Brooklynn's paper.
I anxiously sat down on my yoga cushion and began to take in my surroundings. Compared to my previous retreat, my new environment was lively and filled with visual interest. I was aware of the various chirps of the birds overheard. I don’t think I have ever been so aware of just how different every sound is. Each bird contributed its own unique instrument to the orchestra. I also noticed just how many shades of green there were surrounding me. After settling in, I decided to journal about my thoughts heading into the retreat. I was nervous about spending four hours outside. Would there be enough to do that would occupy me for four hours?
After flushing out all of my concerns, I began to perform some movement. I started out lightly with poses such as child’s pose and cat cow. I was frustrated with myself in tree pose, because I was not able to balance like I usually could. I told myself, however, that every day is different and that I could use my breath the gradually come into the pose.
Eventually, I worked up to some harder poses such as pigeon. I decided to hold these poses longer in order to really feel the benefits of the stretches. I surprised myself in cow-face pose, because I felt like I was more flexible in the posture than I have been in the past.
After I finished this movement portion, I went back to my cushion. When I was settling back into the space, I heard a woodpecker. Usually, I would be very annoyed by a woodpecker, but I felt extremely grateful for the little guy. It dawned on me that this woodpecker is doing the one thing that he was put on this earth to do. How amazing would it be if I was able to do the thing that I was put on this earth to do as well? I watched the woodpecker for a while, and then, he flew away. I am confident that I would not have noticed the woodpecker without mindfulness, because his noises were so faint. I really had to be present to notice him and to appreciate him.
During my meditation, a neighbor walked by, and I immediately experienced negative self-talk. I was worried that they were whispering or thinking about how strange I must be. I told myself that it is my experience that matters. If I am happy, it should not matter what others think, and I returned to the breath.
I found myself wanting to stick to a strict time schedule instead of freely allowing myself to do what felt right. I realized that this is probably the perfectionist aspect of myself. The perfectionist wants things to be exactly right. In this exercise, there is no right or wrong, so I distanced myself from the clock and went into a meditation.
After the meditation, I did a few sun salutations and even a headstand. I was able to actually be in a headstand for a little while before my body told me it was time to come down. I embraced my shakes but also respected my body and did not force myself to stay up when it didn’t feel right.
I went on a walk, where I really let myself explore my senses. I found myself wanting to touch everything. I realized that everything felt different, and even by just touching a leaf, I could tell whether it was old or fresh. I loved the smells of the flowers, too. I even noticed things that I had never given my attention to before such as a rusted no parking sign. It amazed me that I can see something 1000 times, and on the 1001st time, I could still notice something new.
I returned to the mat where I went through a body scan and some restorative yoga poses. During the body scan, it was easier for me to access my right side than my left side. I really had to focus in order to access points on my left side. The yoga poses felt very nice. I spent a lot of time working on hip openers as well, because I felt particularly tight.
I decided to go on another walk. Again, I noticed things that typically do not register in my mind. On my way back, my cat Tiger was sitting in the street waiting for me. It was almost as if he was worried that I would not return. It was in this moment that I realized that Tiger has unconditional love for me. I always knew that I had unconditional love for him, but I never thought of him as a source of unconditional love for me. It made me feel appreciated and loved; it also cultivated internal warmth within me.
When I returned, I decided to meditate with this feeling of unconditional love. It made me happy and content. I loved the feeling of being in my body in that moment. I realized, too, that my mom was showing me unconditional love by giving me the privacy of my own personal retreat. This sensation was extremely comforting.
After this meditation, I went onto mindful eating. I noticed just how quickly I became full. I also noticed different textures and elements to the foods that I eat on a daily basis that I had never noticed before.
Once I finished eating, I decided to journal and explore the topic of befriending myself. I realized that in order to befriend myself I have to accept all aspects of myself. I finished my retreat with a small meditation.
I enjoyed my retreat experience very much. I learned more about myself as well as how to care for myself. The retreat was a great way to escape all of the stresses surrounding my life. If I thought about the stresses, I was not present, so all of the stresses had to go away for those four hours. It was nice to just do what felt right to my body and not what others wanted of me. It was also incredible to see things that I had never really seen before. Mindfulness opens doors that are invisible to the occupied eye. It also is a great way to care for one’s self.