Ok people… here we go… All the gory details of 10 days silent… This is a seriously long post – you’ve been warned! Maybe save it for when you get home and can have a glass of wine (or 4) while you read… LOL

First I have to tell you about how I decided to join this 10-day silent retreat… Siggy saw that there was a documentary film and lecture at this place called Tushita up the hill, so she signed us both up for it… Siggy knows I’ll try just about anything once…

We watched this movie – Cave in the Snow.   It’s based on the true story of Tenzin Palmo, the Tibetan Buddhist nun who spent 12 years of her life in meditation retreat in a remote cave on the side of a mountain in the Himalayas, battling the brutal elements and her own mind… Say whaaaaat??? Why the hell would anyone want to do that???? For real, 12 years????

I watch the movie in awe of the tenacity it would’ve taken to commit to such an endeavor… (my favorite Laura Straus word – tenacity!! I miss you WOS) After the movie, in walks Tenzin Palmo herself to give a lecture. Wow! Oooh, this is gonna be good.. Just in case it’s awe-inspiring and profound, I decide to record it on my phone… She must’ve figured something BIG out being in a cave for 12 years! Here’s the dropbox link to listen to the lecture in its’ entirety if you feel so inclined.

Ha, yeah right, like anyone in the western hemisphere has time for a 2 hour lecture from an English nun… LOL

Anyhow, the gist of the lecture is that we are slaves to our own minds, not masters of them… And that humans in the most general sense are always seeking happiness and avoiding suffering, and that we generate all these negative thoughts and emotions that create havoc in our everyday lives because we are seeking happiness…   Ummmm, yeah… Me, me, me, I do that, I do that!!! Help!!!

Since I know you won’t listen to the lecture, here are a few lines from the recording so you get the idea… Tenzin Palmo says, “Basically, Buddhism feels that the trouble that we experience in our life, is mainly created by our unruly, uncontrolled minds. We blame outer circumstances – of the people, our families, our parents, our partners, etc.… But ultimately the real problem lies within ourselves… In our own mind. And the fact that our minds are so often controlled by negative emotions, such as our greed and our attachment and cravings, by our aggression, obsessive thoughts, anger and frustrations, envy, jealousy of others good fortunes, by our own pride…. Pride in Buddhism doesn’t just mean thinking we’re better than others, it also includes thinking that we are just as good as others, or that we are inferior to others, because all of it is centered around the idea of me. Me comparing myself to others, whether I think I’m better or worse, or just as good as…it’s still self-focus… And the route of all these afflicting emotions, which we have – our fears, our depression, our anger, desires, etc. which disturb the mind, churn up the mind continually – the route is this grasping at the idea of this solid immutable, independent ever lasting need at the center of everything. So therefore, everything happens to me. And in order to make this sense of self feel comfortable, we grasp that and attach ourselves to anything we think will give pleasure to me and get angry and upset about anything we think that will give any pain or displeasure to me…. We do it constantly… You think I don’t do it, only others. Even dogs will do that. In the summer they lay in the shade, in the winter, they lay in the sun… It’s the simple pleasure/pain principle. It’s part of our animal behavior, it stirs up the mind… this is very fundamental and we must learn how to get our minds into some sort of order so that wisdom can arise. Insight can arise into our true nature. We usually think we are in control of our minds. I think the first thing one learns when one learns to meditate, is humility. Because one realizes very quickly how totally out of control our mind really is.. But we can get the mind to become more calm, more clear. And that’s what Shamatha meditation is about – it brings calmness and focus to the mind.” Uhhh yes let the calmness and wisdom arise, please!! I’ve experienced all of this behavior… Pretty much been sabotaging myself my whole life… Grrrrr….

So after two hours of listening to what seemed like she was speaking directly to ME, I was totally intrigued… I wanted to know more! Buddhism can help me control my own negative thoughts and emotions? My out of control mind? For real? Ummm, ok, must learn more… I didn’t realize it until later that night, but Siggy had signed us up for a full day class the next day at Tushita. Good thing I was interested – Siggy you presumptuous soul! LOL

The full day class further intrigues me, so I started reading about the 10 day Introduction to Buddhism course that Siggy was scheduled to attend the following week… Prior to hearing Tenzin Palmo, Siggy and I had discussed me joining her in the retreat, but I told her Buddhism wasn’t my thing and although I believed in their peaceful, compassionate philosophies, I didn’t think it warranted me participating in a 10 day silent retreat… Well, that was all proven wrong when I heard the insightful English nun and the full day class… So there you have it… On to the waiting list I go for the overbooked 10 day retreat.

After much discussion, Siggy and I decide that we don’t want to do the course together – we felt we may distract and take away from the experience of the other, so the day before class starts, we talk it over to decide who will take the first class… Siggy decides she’s not quite in the right frame of mind for the intense nature of 10 days silent, and I’m totally on board to do it now, I’ve been screwing myself up for 37 years people, let’s do this!!, so we decide I will do the first course… So, off I go with my big ass bag to get up to Tushita and confirm I have a spot on the waiting list…

All goes well and I’m in… Whew! If I didn’t get in, I’d have to get back down the mountain with my big bag and find somewhere to stay again… Grrrr.. Ok, yay, here we go… Since I was last on the waiting list that means I got last pick on the type of room I got, so I ended up in a dorm room with 10 women and 1 bathroom… Oh, this will be fun… 10 women and no talking allowed to coordinate shower schedules and what not? Lovely…

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Buddhism Begins Mandala – Drew it the first day I went in…

Ok, let’s get to the good stuff… So, morning bell rings at 6:00 am… Eryn, are you a bit masochistic with this ridiculous morning bell stuff? Geez… Well, at least it’s an improvement on that previous 4:45am – 6:00am, that’s practically sleeping in!   At least it’s a nice gong they ring instead of that loud clanging bell…

Here’s the schedule for days 2 – 7
6:45 to 7:30 Morning Meditation
7:30 Breakfast
9:00 to 11:00 Morning teaching
11:15 to 12:00 Morning walking meditation/stretching
12:00 Lunch and Karma Yoga (Various cleaning duties around the property)
2:00 to 3:00 Discussion Group – Yay, we get to talk for 1 hour!!!!
3:00 Chai time
3:30 to 5:00 Afternoon teaching
5:30 to 6:15 Afternoon meditation
6:15 Dinner
7:30 to 8:15 Evening meditation
Total exhaustion – up to bed!

Meal times are interesting… Sitting there in silence with only the sound of clanking metal plates and utensils with a few coughs and sneezes mixed in every now and then… Not sure if you should be making eye contact with people, or staring into the woods contemplating the latest teachings. Don’t look at me too long! Move those eyes right along… I laugh when I am uncomfortable and this surely is uncomfortable… giggles commencing…hehehe… Once, I could hear the popping of a woman’s jaw with every chomp of her food while we sat and ate – that was slightly annoying… Oh, and there was regular laughing while fending off the monkeys at the outdoor dining area, so that was the regular entertainment – monkeys. Take that you effin’ monkey – you can’t have my orange!!! Awe crap, he got it – no orange for me… There were, actually several monkey incidents and a few people were grabbed/clawed and one guy got bit in the ass!! There are a couple employees that stand guard around the outdoor dining area at meal times with rocks in hand, waiting to throw them towards the monkeys to scare them away… No harm to sentient beings… (Big Buddhist philosophy) Even the monkeys provide a lesson… LOL

The meditation instructor talked much about being “mindful”. Mindfulness in general about everything, but more specifically about eating. Taking one slow bite after the other, even putting your fork down between each bite to really appreciate the amazingness of the meal that was prepared for you. Put our fork down with every bite? For real?   Well, ok, if you insist but this feels strange… We all are looking really bizarre in our quiet solitude putting down our forks after each bite… So, I get the mindfulness concept, and we do all take for granted where our meals come from and rarely give thought to the processes and people it took to bring a meal to our table… The cook that prepared the meal, to the delivery person who brought the raw goods to the kitchen, to the person who plucked the vegetables from the earth, all the way back to the farmer that planted the original seed and painstakingly tilled the soil. And although most everyone is vegetarian here, in most cases in the west, there was an animal who gave up his life to nourish someone elses…  We rarely think of that when we’re purchasing meat in the grocery store with its packaging all nice and shiny – with a pretty label on the front showing an image of a sunny farm where you envision some animal had a nice life… Huh, when you think about all the things that came together to make ME this meal, you really appreciate that this plate of food is pretty special – Wow, there’s a lot of love and energy that went into this!!

This mindful eating took some time to get used to, but I appreciated the concept – we’ve become so accustomed to scarfing down our food without giving any thought to where it came from or the long chain of events that took place to bring that plate from farm to table.

Ok, Eryn, enough on the mindful eating already, let’s move it along Hmmm, speaking of food… Is my favorite breakfast place open yet??? I need to mindfully make my way over to the Carpe Diem café where I can seize some breakfast!!

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Inspired by a mandala on the ceiling of the gompa at Tushita

So, I noticed early on, in the silence, my active brain began making up names for people… It is odd spending that much time with the same individuals and not knowing their names or anything about them… There was Susie VonCoughington – she was sick and coughed almost the entire 10 days… Don’t sit next to me missy! Then there was Irish McWonderBoy – this hilarious black sheep kind of guy who always asked crazy, off the wall questions in class… Thank you for the comic relief – much needed at times. Oh, then there was Mr. McCutie – a guy who had really kind eyes and always seemed to hug me from a distance with every bat of his eyelashes. Thanks man, I needed that!

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This one is titled Waves of Desire – What…  I can still have a crush on a guy even in a Buddhism course…. LOL

We all settled into the daily routine – meditation, class, meditation, class, meditation, etc.… It was really interesting subject matter to me, but after several days, it was becoming more and more exhausting as we went deeper and deeper into ourselves with the topics being taught and the corresponding meditations…   A few of the topics for the teaching/meditations include: Mental afflictions – Anger, pride, attachment, ignorance… Equanimity and the inner child… Impermanence and self cherishing (The Buddhists define this as being selfish)… Love and kindness… Compassion… Human suffering and forgiveness… Regret – acknowledging your past mistakes and really working through the regret you feel for the things you have done. Huh, kinda reminds me of the AA 12 step book I’ve been reading… Don’t worry people, I don’t have a drinking problem… Many people I’m close with have gone through the program and it occurred to me one night while discussing it with my Key West gay husband (I miss you Peter!!!) that the concepts of AA would be great therapy for non-drinkers… I mean, we could all benefit from acknowledging our past wrongs and making amends with those we’ve harmed, right? Eryn, you’ve gotten off topic… Back to the Buddhist stuff you go…

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Ok, ok, so that was day 2 through 7… I found the program at this point to be fairly easy to handle and overall comfortable, although still exhausting and intense to deal with all the emotions that accompany these heavy topics… The, no talking thing didn’t bother me at all – actually I found it really cathartic to just be with my thoughts and to be writing down all my revelations in my journal without the distractions of interacting with other people and whatever drama they bring to the table. And I drew some really bad ass mandalas, inspired by the amazing Buddhist art on the walls and ceilings…   I did miss my computer, but mostly because I’m a much faster typist than I am writing by hand, so it would’ve been nice to be able to spill my thoughts into a word document – but then I wouldn’t have this amazing and beautiful journal full of random notes, drawings and mind maps sorting out my life… Yep, it was good to not have the computer. I did miss my camera… I would’ve really liked to have shot some video blogs for you throughout the week… And the monkeys were quite entertaining, there would’ve been some really great videos there. I didn’t miss email or facebook, except that I would’ve liked to post to my blog mid way through… I did miss Siggy towards the end of class, especially when I was needing a hug, but I was glad that we had decided to do the class separately as we would’ve probably broken the silence and that would’ve certainly distracted from the experience.

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Don’t have a name for this one yet – don’t know the meaning of the Tibetan symbol, but this was inspired by another mandala painted on the ceiling in the gompa…

So, then we move into day 8 and 9 – full days of meditation… I’m gonna give you the actual schedule so you can really get the feeling for the amount of time spent meditating… Whoa!! I hear that kid Joey from the 80’s sitcom Blossom… Whoa!!!! Anyone? Joey – Whoa??  

6:45 to 7:30 Morning meditation
7:30 Breakfast
9:00 to 9:45 Guided meditation
10:15 to 11:00 Guided meditation
11:15 to 12:00 Stretching and yogish type exercises
2:00 to 2:45 Afternoon meditation
3:00 Chai time!!  
4:00 to 4:45 Guided meditation
5:30 to 6:15 Guided meditation
6:15 Dinner
7:30 to 8:15 Guided meditation

Ok, so obviously these days were the most intense… We meditated on appreciation and equanimity… dying and death… Dying and death people!!! We went through having a major illness and having only 6 months to live and how we’d tell our friends and family, etc… Are you freakin’ kidding me, we’re meditating on dying??? Whoa!! This is all meant to give you a real appreciation of life and to teach us to live life to the fullest bringing ONLY love, compassion and kindness to everyone you come in contact with, friend, foe, or stranger… This is the crux of their teachings, aside from the rebirth and karma concepts, which I’m still thinking on… Not quite sure about that yet…

After the “dying” meditation, everyone was pretty emotional and exhausted – that was meditation 4 of 7 on day 8… We were all looking especially melancholy and glassy eyed at chai time on this particular day, as you can imagine… After tea, we all slowly slowly meander our way back into the gompa (the Buddhist teaching hall) for meditation 5 of 7… Do I really have to go in there? I don’t wanna… I want a nap! We all take our spots on our little floor cushions and prepare for the next meditation…   Awe man, I left all my snotty tissues here from the dying meditation… Lovely…

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Strangely enough, when we did the meditation on dying, it didn’t bother me so much that I was actually dying… But I really lost it when we went through the part about telling everyone we cared about that we were going to die… Really made me think about who my “constants” are in my life – that’s what I’m calling them… not people that just come and go, but the life long friends and family that stay with me whether I’m in Pensacola, Ft. Myers, Key West, Atlanta, or India…

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In class, my mind kept flashing back to this line from one of my favorite movies, JFK… reminds me of my mom… Miss you mom!!

Venerable Joan (our teacher, a Buddhist nun) takes her place at the front of the class… “Ok, the previous meditation we went through the last 6 months before our death, now we’re going to actually die in this meditation and go all the way through death and past our last breath (and rebirth if you believe in that?)” Wait, what? Joan, are you freakin’ kidding me? The last meditation wasn’t emotional enough, we actually have to die now? OMG this is too much! Several people quickly get up from their cushions and leave the room…   I know they are not leaving for a bathroom break! Take me with you, take me with you… No, Eryn, you can do this… You can do this!!! We make it through all the death and dying, which, by the way, the actual death was much easier than the 6 months prior to death, for some reason… Then we round out the day with meditation 6, on anger, and then 7, on appreciation… Oh, thank God we’re ending the day on something positive – appreciation! After the last meditation, we are all looking pretty zombie like as we wrap our blankets around ourselves and shuffle off in our yak wool socks back to our rooms… Night night, off to sleep we all go…

Day 9, as you can imagine, was equally exhausting, but we battled through it… This was the day where I ended up spending some time in the clearing of the trees and wound up meeting my new friend Meghan after the monkey attack… So, ya wanna know what got me so upset that I needed to run off into the woods? Crazy, you won’t believe it… After whatever meditation on day 9, I was already in an emotional kind of state, but holding it together pretty nicely, and I was sitting outside the gompa in the sun trying to warm up, waiting for the next meditation – one of the Tushita dogs came up and sat next to me…. Ohhhhhh, hello you adorable furry creature, come here to me, I need a hug!!! I looked into his human like eyes and we had a little bonding moment – I rubbed his head and leaned in for a hug… It only took about 30 seconds and… WTF? Tears – More, more, more tears… Ohhhhh, I miss my Griffy Magoo…. Baaahhhaaahahahahahaaa the sobbing commences… Really, Eryn, a dog… You’ve just survived death and dying amongst other serious topics and you lose it looking into the eyes of an unfamiliar 4 legged furry creature? Yep, it all came crashing down…

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This is where I ran off into the woods and ended up meeting Meghan…

So, hey listen…. I know this is all sounding pretty depressing and deep… And you probably think I’m crazy for willingly immersing myself in such an intense environment knowing that all this stuff was going to come out of me… And you’re wondering, what the hell does she have to cry about, she’s got it pretty good, she has no responsibilities and she’s out there traveling the world… And you’re right… I am blessed beyond belief, I truly truly am… But we all have shit in our lives, you know? In our past… maybe from relationships or our childhood… I have my own story, but the details aren’t important – our stories are really all the same, mine is no different than yours… And over time, as we roll through life like a steam train, we push aside all these little (sometimes big) emotional aches and pains of life that have compounded themselves and we push them further and further down inside and that leads to all the obsessive thoughts, mental afflictions, destructive behavior and self sabotaging Tenzin Palmo was referring to… And as long as we keep all those things hidden inside us, we will never be the best version of ourselves because we are always running from something… OURSELVES… So, at 37, I knew it was time to take responsibility for my own emotional health, with all of its’ cyclical destructive patterns… I knew if I ever wanted to be happy in my life, I had to break the cycle and learn how to find happiness within myself instead of looking to the outside world to provide my happiness. Easier said than done… And it’s hard work… Because it’s painful… Facing all the shit in our past, whatever it is, is never fun. But it’s necessary…   If we can make peace with ourselves and break the destructive patterns, we will have a mind of clarity instead of chaos – only then will we be able to make better decisions in our lives and bring less suffering to ourselves and others…

As far as I’m concerned, this course should be required for all humans as a gift to mankind… I mean, aside from the rebirth stuff it’s more a philosophy than a religion. And it was like 3 years of deep, inner, intensive psychoanalysis – although when I mentioned this to one guy from class, he said it was more like 7 years of therapy… Maybe it should be mandatory like drivers education in high school… You know, they teach you English, math, science, etc., but there’s not one subject on how to deal with our thoughts and our mind – and we walk around with our minds 24 hours a day, 7 days a week without a moments rest from it…

Can you imagine how peaceful it would be if we all had calm minds and were making rational decisions? The world would be a lot happier place if we followed their Buddhist philosophies, that’s for sure… I suppose now I need to revisit some teachings on Christian beliefs and compare, although I can’t think of any Christian retreats that so concisely talk about similar concepts and how they really relate to real life situations and our attidude towards our own minds. Although, to be fair, I’ve never actively looked for this type of Christian based retreat. Anyway, I am definitely in knowledge seeking mode…

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This one is “The Tree of Enlightenment” Again inspired by a wall painting in the gompa… It’s said that Buddha became enlightened under a certain tree and it’s depicted in much of their Buddhist art…  I just liked the leaves on the tree… 🙂

My yoga instructor friend from Rishikesh, Venkat explained to me before… We are all like diamonds in the rough – and we begin in the natural, mineral rocky form. Only some of us will choose to chisel away the many layers of rock to expose the diamond, and then continue to cut and polish until the brilliant stone is revealed. Brillliant analogy Venkat!!! Brilliant! I’ve been chiseling for years now, but am finally breaking through all the crusty outer layers…

In summary, this was an amazing, life changing experience… If I ever questioned my mental toughness or stability, (which I have with some of my behavior and all my family history) I know now that I am ok… Really ok! I can say with no arrogance and total sincerity that going through that 10 days of inner analysis takes real courage and strength, so it feels really good to know that I could face the challenge of my inner self and come out the other side ok… Yay, me! And actually, regarding our mental state, as people in general, I really believe that it’s the hiding and suppressing our issues from the past that causes and further elevates depression and other mental health issues… If we face them head on – talk about them, roll around in them, sleep with them, become friends with them, then it demystifies them and takes away their power… And that’s important – because anything you give power too (consciously or subconsciously) WILL affect your thoughts, which then affects your speech, then your actions, and consequently your life. 

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Tibetan text I copied from off the wall – they have little mantras everywhere… This one says:

If it can be remedied, why be upset about it?  
If it cannot be remedied, what is the use of being upset about it?  
Good point…  Huh – Wise words…..

So, there you have it, 10 days silent… I made some life long friends, and have lots of new people to visit while I’m out in the world traveling… So many nationalities were in attendence, kinda crazy… I would totally do it again if the opportunity presents itself – there is still work to do… The worst part was being without all of you… But it was great to see your supportive comments and emails when I got out… Thanks again for your continued love and support, it really means the world.

Oh, and I know before I left the states, some of you expressed interest in meeting me overseas when I made it to Europe… Wusses can’t hack it in the third world countries… LOL If you were serious about it, let’s start talking about it as I arrive in Rome June 21st and plan to spend the summer moving around Europe… So send me an email and we’ll figure out where we can hook up…

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Conch life in India – I saw a drawing of this on the pavement at the Tushita center and it reminded me of home. The conch shells are big here, but don’t really know why yet… I’ve heard they are used to hold perfume and also as musical instruments in ceremonies, but I’m not sure I know the full symbolism for this part of the world…

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Took this little note on the last day as they gave us tips on how to re enter the real world… Glad I don’t have to do that yet!  LOL

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If I had one final resonating thought that has stuck with me after the class, this is it… You are your own refuge… The more literal Tibetan text below, “One is one’s own refuge.”

Hey, stay tuned for the next post about my overnight hike up to Triund mountain… That’s gonna be a good one people!! Love to you all…xoxo  

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