Ever take a moment to sit back and reflect on how wonderful life is? Truly appreciate everything you’ve got, live in the moment, be present, blah blah. I think we always talk about how impactful that would be, but it takes a lot of courage to actually go and do it. Especially now. I randomly decided to travel to a remote town called Mazunte, off the coast of Oaxaca, Mexico, to attend a 10 day silent meditation retreat and these are my learnings.
First of all, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I enjoy meditation as a fun 15-20 minute break to stop and reflect, maybe, but I wouldn’t say I actually practiced it regularly. And then I realized I signed up for a MEDITATION retreat. Which means all I would be doing is meditating and I am in over my head (literally). I gave away my phone the night before, left my laptop at a friend's place, and began the digital detox. It was no problem. It also wasn’t really a problem being silent. We can always choose not to speak. In fact, I think we choose not to speak more often than we should. What did it for me was the no contact. We were encouraged not to make eye contact with any other members at the retreat. No smiling. We had to look down at their feet. And I realized how much I wanted to be seen in the eyes of others. I wanted to validate my own existence by someone else realizing that for me. But with that removed, I had to question, who am I really?
I realized how many judgments I had about these random people at the retreat. Because I couldn’t speak to them, I drew up elaborate stories about their lives. It was actually very fun to do, the way you might draw up a scenario if you’re people watching at a restaurant. Guess what they do for work, where they’re from, what their relationship is like. Thankfully at this retreat we could journal because I felt the immense urge to share all of my thoughts to my close friends. I guess my journal was going to be my best friend for these next 10 days. I was going to be my best friend for the next 10 days. And I was fucking annoying. I did not stop journaling. It was exhausting how many thoughts I had that I felt the need to write down to see how clever I was. To acknowledge how interesting my thoughts were. And in doing this all day because I have absolutely nothing else to do, I realized in the personalization of my journal, in treating it like it was a person, how much I was seeking validation from other people as a way to define myself.
After noticing all of these judgments I made about others, I tired out my brain and had to look inward - and ask myself, what judgments am I making about myself? Or rather, what judgments that others have made about me am I trying to prove as either true or false? Who am I really? This is when things got interesting.
I want to take a moment to recognize all the tiny miracles that needed to happen in order for me to be here today, reporting back to you about this weird and wonderful time I had in silence. I needed to already have taken the leap to move to Mexico in February, so traveling domestically didn’t feel like too much of a hurdle. I needed to reconnect with a friend I had lost touch with to recommend the 10 day silent retreat. And I needed to have made a virtual female friend that was introduced to me from one of the 100 masked men, a total stranger, to feel safe with the thought that Id at least know one person in this tiny little remote town in Mexico. There was a lot of fear I had to overcome that I didn’t even realize. I was just excited at the thought of this retreat for no apparent reason. I didn’t even read up on the teachings, look at the schedule, or check out who was leading it. I just jumped in blindly. And to live life with that much vitality, you really have to stop and notice all the miracles that had to happen.
Right before I left I was triggered when someone told me, you have such an amazing life. But this idea you have of my amazing life is only based on your idea of me and what my life looks like to you. You see, it’s a miracle I am even here today.
Three years ago, you could have said I had such an amazing life. I had a beautiful condo in downtown Toronto decorated with pretty things, I had a big important job with big important responsibilities that paid me a lot of money, and I had a side hustle where I could make myself feel good doing a thing completely on my own, self made. But at that time I was suffering of depression and thoughts of suicide.
During one of the meditations I reflected on this idea of what is an amazing life, and how it is usually reflected on your thoughts of someone else’s life. I thought about myself three years ago, learning about depression, and trying to describe that to people. I would explain that it was as if I had a giant boulder I had to carry with me all the time, 24/7. Some days I would be strong enough to take it with me all the way to work and back, and some days I could barely make it out of bed.
And in that realization I thought okay, I have the strength and determination to get better. I can do this. And I built this beautiful new version of life, the one I live today. I have broken free, I got out of the matrix, I am semi-retired working exclusively for myself, I make money in my sleep, I live on a beach, I am in full control of my life. And yet still, I am still only slightly less unhappy than I was three years ago. Why?
And then it dawned on me, that I had created the most fantastic contraption to hold up this boulder. It was built from the most elaborate materials that only I could draw up, enamoured with my personality and fit me so perfectly it made the boulder weightless. And then I realized - but I'm still carrying the boulder!
And I felt like I was standing at the top of a cliff. I had the chance to drop the boulder. To let it all go. But in letting go of the boulder, there would be no more need for that fantastic contraption I created that I use to define myself today. If I let go, I lose the boulder, but I also lose all the things I have made for myself. This is what letting go is. This is the surrender people talk about. Can I drop it all? It would be so much easier if I didn’t have a lot to lose. But this is everything that I am. Everything that I have worked myself up to be.
And in that moment I was overcome with so much sadness that I began to cry. In silence. Slow, salty, tears fell down my face as I swallowed in this quiet feeling, all alone, on the floor in this vast hall on the top of a mountain with 40 people who I can’t engage with. And that brought me even more sadness at the fact that no one will witness this moment except me. And suddenly, soft rain fell. For just a minute. And it felt as if mother nature came to cry with me for a minute, and then it was silent once again.
There is a lot of sadness that came out of the retreat because learning the truth isn’t fun. Think of when you learned Santa wasn’t real as a kid? We don’t think about sadness much because it's one of those icky feelings we try to avoid. Ignorance is bliss and that’s why we enjoy the comfort of indifference and not digging in too deep.
At the retreat I experienced a whirlwind of emotions that still echo in me now. But the biggest learning is in the judgment of others. My roommate had the same thought when she first met me, thinking I was clearly younger than her, and somehow managed to cultivate the life she dreamed of, and here I am also on this retreat, I am so far ahead. The jealousy she felt, the comparison, and the story she told herself that she could never get as far as me. And then I shared my journey and she thought ahh, so that’s the rest of the story. We always aspire to have the ideal life we see someone living, but we never hear about what that person had to sacrifice to get that level of success and achievement we are taught to praise in modern society. We are so focused on catching up to these ideals, so focused on measuring our self worth in comparison to them. Think of how quickly you would trade your life for the perceived amazingness of someone else’s. How dare we think our lives today are not good enough? The learning here is you will never know what someone else’s life is truly like, so live yours as authentically as you can.
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