I always had a yearning to learn yoga and visit South East Asia. Not so long ago, I got to experience both. But they came with an unexpected bonus … seven days of SILENCE!
In 2011 I was lucky enough to be in a place in my life where I could take several months leave. I decided to tick as many experiences off my bucket list as I could manage. Yoga, and visiting Thailand were high on the list. So imagine my delight when I found a place called Jungle Yoga. It was a magical place, buried deep in the wild rainforests of Khao Sok National Park. The lodge is made up of floating bungalows adrift a freshwater lake, and surrounded by towering limestone cliffs. My heart leaped when I clicked an a special seven-day retreat offer which included yoga and meditation. Perfect! I signed up, but in my excited rush I didn’t realize it was a silent retreat. Yep. A silent Vipassana retreat with several hours of strictly scheduled meditation per day. It was a shock, but sometimes the unexpected can lead us down new paths that change our lives in deeply profound ways. This was one of those times.
On arrival, I discovered the living conditions were more rudimentary than the photographs implied. The guest huts were made of palms leaves, and the only furniture was a thin mattress with a simple overthrow and one pillow. On the tiny deck was a simple hanging basket for your toothbrush and soap. Cold-water showers and loos were a walk up the hill. I sucked in a deep breath, tore up my list of city-chick must-have’s, and embraced my grand adventure.
The environment was spectacular. The water in the lake was so clean, guests soon ignored the showers and settled for washing in the lake. I used to sit perched on a log outside my little hut, right on the water, and wash my hair (with biodegradable shampoo) and then jump in the lake and rinse it all out. Nervana! Except of course, my long, thick hair soon resembled a bird’s nest, so four days later I was forced to cheat and use my Kerastase Hair Conditioner. (During my next meditation, I prayed it didn't harm any fishies.)
There were ten guests in my retreat group, and three guides. The whole experience was rewarding but unexpectedly challenging, both physically and emotionally. The daily schedule replicated a typical silent retreat in a monastery with the same disciplines.
All verbal interaction was discouraged except during the five o’clock Dhamma Talk, and to ensure our wellbeing, we each had a daily one-on-one interview with one of the Dhammas. The Teaching was lead by Steven Smith, an inspiring Hawaiin who taught with great empathy and integrity. He brought a guest, DhammaRuan from Sri Lanka, renowned for his chanting ability. Each night he’d send us into a trance with magical chants that rippled out over the lake. Sometimes, the haunting song of the gibbons would echo back from the nearby forest—transcendent and unforgettable. Julie or Uma (her yoga name) was the yoga instructor and is one of the kindest women I have ever met. Her yoga was designed to stretch our bodies, made sore and stiff from hours of sitting.
The teachings were fundamentally Buddhist, anchored in Vipassana—knowing yourself as you truly are—and Mindfulness. I found it mostly made sense, and resonated in a way that I knew would be life-changing. Although the theory is quite simple, I continue to find daily practice a challenge.
The week turned into an emotional rollercoaster. I went from the high of achieving a moment of great clarity, to a tearful mess when I slammed into a personal reality that had been hiding in my subconscious. Throughout, the Dammas were gentle and supportive, guiding us with great equanimity. The experience was overwhelming at times, but welcome support came from the most unexpected of places—my fellow participants. Without uttering a word, their silent empathy would reach out to comfort me. I met this diverse group of nine people on the boat ride over, and an hour after arrival never spoke to them again for seven days. The weird thing was, I felt like I knew them intimately. Meditation is like that. I could identify each person from the sound of their footsteps.
The yoga sala was simple and beautiful and open to the elements. It was the monsoon season so it rained in massive deluges every day. This didn’t interrupt our rigid schedule, we’d just lower the bamboo blinds and meditate to the sound of driving rain. The days were never truly silent. If it wasn’t the rain, it was a cacophony of wild animals and birds from the jungle. Or in quieter lulls, we could even hear fish jumping in the lake. Finger-tingling, energising, nature’s sublime symphony. As the days passed we got less fidgety during meditation. This tranquility, combined with the lack of chit-chatter in the lodge, became a balm to the senses.
For the first two days my head reverberated with a gabfest at which there was only one guest—me! And as much as I tried, I couldn’t silence the voice rambling on inside my brain. I did my best to follow Steve’s guidance, but as soon as I began to sink into a meditative state, I’d be yanked out, and shoved into one solitary conversation after another. I even took an odd trip down memory lane, visiting with school friends I hadn't connected with in years. Disconcerting to say the least! But the days passed, merged, and one afternoon the voices were suddently gone. Silence. Pure silence which brought with it an inner peace that washed through me like liquid sunshine. I have never been able to achieve this pure state again. I don't mind. It came to me at a time in my life when I needed it most, and I have no doubt it will revisit me if the need should arise again.
Not speaking for days on end is a fascinating experience. Like most new skills in life, it gets easier with practice, until one day it seems the action of talking has become the oddity, rather than silence. When I wanted to ask a question during the Damma Talk, I found myself deliberating with care before I spoke, and even then, I chose my words selectively. And when I did speak, my voice reverberated in my head like I was shouting!
The most valuable gift I discovered in this unexpected week, was that only in silence did I begin to find a sense of personal clarity that brought with it answers to questions that had been hiding from me my whole life. I still meditate today. It keeps me grounded and will always remind me of the unique experience I was gifted with in the depths of the Thai jungle.
Do you think you’d benefit from a silent retreat and meditation experience or would it drive you bonkers? Let me know what you think in the Comments below. Anni xx
Exciting new author, Anni Fife, has just released her debut novel, Luke’s Redemption. A Contemporary Romantic suspense (steamy!)
Chased by her criminal kingpin father, Katya Dalca runs to New Orleans and straight into the arms of Luke Hunter. Sucked into the carnal world of the French Quarter, she succumbs to Luke’s potent sexuality. He not only steals her breath, he steals her heart, and the only leverage she has against her father. She’s left with no choice but to pick up the pieces and rebuild her life alone.
Undercover DEA agent Luke Hunter thought his newest assignment—recover a stolen flash drive to gain the trust of the Russian mob—was like any other. But his target brings him to his knees, and after one taste of her intoxicating beauty, he's in too deep. Doing his job means walking away, leaving his heart behind with nothing but a promise to reunite. It's a promise he can't keep.
When Katya's past reaches out and her world unravels, her only hope is the one man she is most vulnerable to—Luke.
Anni Fife left a successful career in television to fulfill her lifelong passion, writing. In the space of one month, she shut her business, packed up her city life, and moved to a small seaside village to begin her new life…as an author. LUKE’s Redemption is Anni’s debut novel. Anni loves spending hours on the beach searching for pansy shells, more hours drinking red wine with her gals, and the most hours writing steamy romance novels filled with hot alpha men, and the sassy intelligent women they can’t live without. She is currently working on her second novel, GRAY’s Promise.
SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS
You can read all about me on my website, and join Anni’s Posse to get regular updates and Bonus Treats—www.annifife.com
Or LIKE me on Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/AnniFifeAuthor/
Or follow me on Twitter—https://twitter.com/AnniFifeAuthor
Amazon Author Page— https://www.amazon.com/author/annifife
Luke’s Redemption is also available from Kobe, Bookstrand, All Romance, iTunes and The Wild Rose Press. All these Buy Links are available on Anni’s website: http://annifife.com/