At-home meditation retreat: my experience and learnings

How have you been using your time during COVID?

I live in Melbourne, Australia so am in lockdown right now. Like everyone around here, I feel a little boxed in, but am trying to make use of the time to do meaningful things.

One thing I have been getting into this year is at-home silent meditation retreats. I did a 5-day one over the Easter break, and then a 7-day one a couple of weeks back.

For the most recent one, I used some recorded teachings and meditations from a face-to-face retreat I went to last year in the Catskills, just north of New York. It was run by Adyashanti, who is my favourite teacher at the moment.

His teachings are simple and clear, and yet profound. They are “direct path” teachings, meaning that they point directly to awareness (some people call this “awakening” or “enlightenment”, although these are pretty loaded terms).

By “awareness”, I mean the thing that is looking through your eyes right now as you read these words. Not the words themselves, or the screen you are reading them on, or the light that is bringing them to your retina. And certainly not what you think about what you are reading – or what it is that may be looking through your eyes.

I mean the part of you that is looking. The part of you that is feeling through your body, listening through you ears and aware of the thoughts that go through your mind.

It’s probably pretty obvious on some level when I talk about these things. I mean, there is indisputably something that is looking through your eyes right now, huh? That is indisputable. But the moment you recognise this, your mind immediately starts to conceptualise what this “thing” may be. Or else it gets caught straight away in the things you are seeing (ie the words on the screen).

This is just how the mind works. It is conditioned to constantly get caught in, react to, or think about what we experience. So we never notice the obvious fact, literally staring us in the face, that there is something that is experiencing – that is different to what we experience, and yes is somehow inseparable from it.

If you take time (like…how about 7 straight days) to meditate directly upon this – to really give all of your attention to what it is that’s aware in each moment – some really interesting things start to happen.

Here are a few of the insights I had that I thought may be helpful to share with you:
There is a big difference between looking from awareness and looking at it. My mediation practice over the past few years has been completely about recognising what is awake in me, but omg the retreat I realised I was looking for some “awake” experience, rather than being the awareness. Adyashanti kept inviting us to inquire into what was “looking from awareness…and which was not an experience”. That was a really profound tweak to how I was practising.
One millisecond after the moment I dropped into this awareness, I immediately get caught in an experience or concept again. That happened over and over again. It is just how our minds work. But when I let go of these concepts/experiences, I was able to rest as awareness again. As I did this over and over, I started spending more time just…being.

As I had more moments of simply looking from awareness, I realised that awakening is a shift of identity – from looking at awareness (or searching for it) to looking from awareness. This is subtle but profound. It became obvious that there is an awareness that is always, already just happening. Which isn’t in resistance to anything that is being experienced, has no judgments about it, and takes no effort at all to maintain. In fact, I realised that meditation isn’t about making anything happen, but instead is about realising there is a part of us that is always, effortlessly meditating – and we just have to let go into that. I already knew that conceptually, but it really dropped in.
As I relaxed into the awareness that is always present, and learned to live from that place, I was juts less caught up in experiences. Thoughts and emotions didn’t have quite the same grip on me. I can see how if I have enough experiences of being awareness, I will get less and less caught in phenomena.

Since the retreat I’ve been changing the way I live in little ways, such as scheduling monthly weekend retreats (or at least setting aside a day for meditation), setting an intention to create community (by meditating and watching teachings with others at my house once a week – once we are allowed to again) and generally setting my life to allow more presence (ie doing less multi-tasking and watching less screens).

I can’t recommend highly enough going deep with your practice. So many people start meditating to feel calmer or be able to focus better. Which is great, obviously. But I have found that the people who continue meditating over time tend to have a different motivation. And what better motivation than understanding how your mind works and seeing deeply into the nature of reality (like Neo in the matrix, only without all those annoying green symbols – which are just more experiences)?

And maybe “waking up”…whatever that means?!

Just in case you ARE interested to know more about this approach to meditation, here are some free meditations I’ve made that attempt to capture what I am talking about above. I would love to know how you find it. And as always, if you love it, please share it with others. I want everyone to have the experience I had on the retreat!

One other benefit of the retreat was how much it deepened my connection with my partner Elisa. She did it with me and also loved it. We were mostly in silence but set aside time each day for “mindful connection”. We dropped into our vulnerability…and in fact, into a whole new level of connection with each other, as we both started relating from the timeless awareness within us!

It’s been profound for our relationship and I’m so blessed she’s open to meditation.

It reminded us just how important it is to learn to relate from this place. Which is why we created our Mindful Connection Online Course, which are about to launch.This course will be filled with practical tools for conscious relating, such as being less triggered, managing emotions better, increasing self-awareness and communicating in clear ways.

Stay posted for more on my Mindful Connection Online Course – coming soon!

Stay well (and keep meditating).