My yogi job was a different story. Alone and armed with a pair of disposable blue gloves, I tried to bring a mindful approach to my task. Following laminated instructions, I focused on the sounds as I scrubbed the toilets, sinks and showers. I mopped the floors, noticing the motion of my arms and being mindful not to bang the mop into the sink legs.
Every chance I got, I went outdoors. During my walks, I had an eye-to-eye exchange with an owl, watched a large beaver leave a frozen pond to cross a road, and marveled at iced-over berries that hung like marbles. I wished I could capture these encounters with my camera-ready phone but captured them in my mind instead.
Sitting at meals — not speaking, reading, scrolling or watching a screen — was a true exercise in being in the present moment. Moving through the buffet line, I piled my plate high with the flavorful vegetarian food, expressed my gratitude (silently!), and counted how many colors were on my plate. My best entertainment: an exquisitely placed bird feeder outside the dining hall windows. Every meal provided an all-out war between squirrels and birds.
With all the stillness, many of us yearned for distraction. A large white board sat outside the office, displaying the group meeting schedules, locations for daily affinity sits and folded up notes from a yogi to a teacher. We had been told to provide a family member with the front office number, and in case of emergency, a message would be posted on the white board. As though breaking news might come in hourly, a crowd built in front of the board very time we exited the meditation hall
By the end of the week, while the days had taken on a tranquil, rhythmic pace, I was ready to go home. I missed my family, and knowing what was happening in the world. The daily routine was growing monotonous. On my final day scrubbing toilets, I gleefully tossed those blue gloves into the garbage bin.
Did a week of silence change my life? I hadn’t come on retreat in search of that kind of epiphany (I have a therapist for that). I came rather seeking an adventure, and a deeper knowledge of the power of meditation that only extended time can give. The week had given me a sort of spalike experience for my mind, protected from the distractions and stressors of daily life.
For Jo, the retreat brought a deeper insight about meditation’s purpose. “On retreat, I learned that the point is not to lose yourself, which is more relaxing, but to find yourself, and that was harder work in good way.”
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