This is my third spiritual retreat and although it doesn’t make me an expert, I thought I’ll share with you my experiences.
I am neither religious nor spiritual, and that’s why I go on retreats, hoping to discover that side which is lacking in me.
There are many places offering spiritual retreats in Singapore that are secular for people like myself. My company, Brahm Centre, offers a one day mindfulness retreat to those who have taken mindfulness courses with us and want more practice or a short retreat.
My first religious retreat was to Ajahn Brahm’s Executive Retreat, held in a five star resort in Phuket. Although organized by a Buddhist organization, it’s really perfect for a free thinker. The five-day retreat incorporated an optional morning 6.30am meditation followed by breakfast. At 8am, we congregate for a Dharma talk by Ajahn Brahm, with another guided meditation and then it’s a break in the afternoon for some free and easy excursion. After dinner, it’s another talk, questions and answers, followed by 20 minutes meditation before retiring.
Ajahn Brahm’s talks are enjoyable and I follow him even though I am not a Buddhist. That retreat reminds me of the discipline to meditate daily so as to control my monkey mind and to stop the incessant chatters that go inside, but more to be aware of what’s going inside myself – thoughts, emotions and feelings. That aside, I had fabulous buffets for breakfast and dinners, comfortable beds, massages and beautiful beaches, plus lots of shopping in between.
Those who signed up for the ten-day retreat would continue thereafter in silence, with longer meditation, no excursion and no food after noon. But otherwise, this is a good retreat for beginners who want more practice without the regimental and austerity of a true Vipasana retreat.
Two years ago, I went to Nepal on a yoga retreat. A retreat like this is good for lazy yogis who want more daily practices but lack the discipline or time. It was fabulous as we practised yoga at every day break and in the evening. After breakfast, we were taken either on tour around Nepal, or to a hike for outdoor yoga facing the Himalayas. This is simply the best way of seeing a country without losing touch with my practice. We stayed in a small resort ran by an Italian couple and we had delicious vegetarian meals.
My colleague found the Bali Silent Retreat online three weeks ago and in a spur, both of us decided to sign up. Now that I m here, I realised that silent retreats are best to go alone. We are reminded that we are not here to socialize but to go inwards. It’s rather difficult with companions as you feel obliged to report your plans or greet each other. I try not to have eye contact with the rest of the guests and they do likewise, which makes me feel unfriendly and rude. Luckily I am not the only one who feels this way as yesterday on a jungle walk with our Chef Simon, who gave us permission to talk in his jungle, someone commented that it was so nice to finally put a voice to the face (versus putting a face to the voice!).
This rustic retreat in the middle of padi fields truly puts us out of our comfort zones- a first for us. My hubby has a headache which I attributes to caffeine withdrawal as no coffee, tea or diary is served here.
This being an eco lodge, we are mindful of wasting the earth’s resources or any pollution. Power is generated by solar energy, which means that at night, each room is illuminated by a single LED bulb, which not only makes reading a challenge, but also bathing and toilet as I am so used to my brightly lit bathroom at home. We are mindful of our rubbish, as we are only given a little handmade paper bag for plastic, and one for sanitary pads. Thus, I stop using tissues, and wonder where I am supposed to dispose my cotton disposable underwear and my dental floss.
At night, we stay cooped inside our mosquito net, defenceless to the thousands of insects buzzing outside the netting trying to get in. There is no insect screen as the space under the roof is opened for ventilation. Last night, in my wooden bungalow, a storm blew so hard the mosquitoe net shook violently. This morning we awakened to a flattened padi field, stomped by the storm.
There’s no air-conditioning, and we live with the humidity and perspiration, hoping to catch that occasional breeze that blow our way.
There’s no Wi-Fi and no network. So no facebook but I am still blogging offline, a comfort I indulge in since this is the only communication I can do. Initially, I find myself switching on my phone, disappointed at not receiving news from whatsapp, email or facebook, worried at my scrabble games hanging…..and I can’t wait for the retreat to end so that I can immediately get Wi-Fi at the airport. But today, two days later, I am adapting.
All this rustic living somewhat takes away the focus of staying silent and not talking. But it is still difficult trying to not talk. I find myself wanting to point out the kingfisher to my hubby but I can’t. Or to tell my plans to my companions but since I can’t, I might as well not plan. Thus I discover that going on a silent retreat is really the best way to stay in the present moment. But make sure you go alone.
Still，I am enjoying this as I get to meditate and practise yoga twice a day, eat delicious vegan meals and yes, enjoyed a Balinese massage, done in a simple hut with a whirling fan, puts me into a snooze.
So although touted as an ashram, there is still some level of creature comforts.
My friend, who went to a Buddhist retreat at Jana Grove in Perth, where Ajahn Brahm’s monastery is, told me how wonderful her experience is. Imagine a silent retreat in a monastery – am I ready for it?