The Mindfulness Clinic Blog

Practicing What We Teach - March 11, 2011

Meditation at The Mindfulness Clinic

by Hilary Killam


At The Mindfulness Clinic, we understand how important it is that our therapists and instructors have strong personal meditation practices. We create regular opportunities for practice at the Clinic for our staff, as well as members of the community.

We meditate every day at the office for an hour in the afternoon. We offer Meet, Eat, Sit and One-Day Retreats to health professionals and students in the community who are interested in learning more about mindfulness meditation or trying meditation out for the first time. We also learn about upcoming local meditation retreats, and sometimes are able to take part in them.

Dr. Kelly, the Clinical Director of The Mindfulness Clinic, generously sponsored five of our staff members to participate in a seven-day meditation retreat in Guelph, Ontario in November, 2010, which included fourteen hours of silent meditation each day. I sat down with three of the retreatants–Dawn Stephenson, Laurisa Dill and Sarah Housser–to talk a little bit about their experiences.

H.K.: Laurisa and Dawn, this was the first retreat for both of you. What was it like?
     

L.D.:

I was open to any kind of experience. I didn’t have any expectations about it being a particular way. The first three days were a little bit lonely. The middle two days were excruciating (I experienced a lot of impatience and anger), and the final three days were better—the anger and impatience resided. Overall, I learned a lot about how repetitive the dialogue is in my head—the common themes. For me, these included the self-critical and other-critical story.
     
D.S.: The thing that stood out for me was the realization that there is a difference between ‘not speaking’ and ‘being silent.’ Not speaking was relatively easy, but remaining silent—quieting my mind and not allowing myself to become attached to the thoughts that arose—was infinitely more difficult.
     
H.K.: Sarah, you’ve done a ten-day retreat before. Did that help you at all with this one?
     
S.H.: On my first retreat, I hadn’t had any prior meditation experience, so now, after 7 years of a personal practice, I was curious to see how it would be different. This time, I had more of an understanding that all things arise and pass away, so when difficulties (both emotional and physical) would appear, I started to be able to stand back from them, knowing they’d pass without me having to interfere or solve them.
     
H.K.: How were you feeling before the retreat? Did you do anything to prepare? What advice would you give someone thinking about going on a retreat for the first time?
     
S.H.: I knew enough from my first retreat to not “look forward” to it in the giddy, excited sense. I was looking forward to the experience of it now that I’ve had some meditation experience, but I knew it would be challenging. I’d been meditating a lot for the year leading up to this retreat—I have a daily practice—and I also did one 4-day retreat about 4 months before this big one, so I had some preparation. As for advice, I think it is easier on you if you can have some meditation experience, whether it’s a weekly group or a shorter day-long or weekend retreat to lead up to the longer one. Also, I would advise anyone trying this for the first time to stay with it, even when it seems difficult. Just stay with it.
     
L.D.: To prepare, I consulted others who had been on retreats to find out what their experiences were like. If it’s your first one, maybe go for a shorter one than a whole week!
     
H.K.: What was the most difficult part of the retreat for you?
     
D.S.: Having dinner in silence was a lonely and awkward experience. For me, coming together and sharing food is a very social event—mealtime is usually filled with laughter and lively conversation. Although I never got used to eating in silence, eating mindfully really made me appreciate the effort it took to prepare the meals.
     
S.H.: One difficulty was that old patterns of thinking came back. I was surprised and even discouraged by the fact that they had returned. I spoke about this with the retreat teacher. After our talk, I was able to meet the old thought patterns with more perspective, sometimes doing a loving kindness meditation or focusing more closely on my body sensations until they passed away. They always passed away.
     
H.K.: What did you learn from this retreat?
     
S.H.: This retreat reconnected me in a very deep sense with the understanding that no matter how difficult things are, they pass. I also learned that my body is a trusted ally. By sitting and being with my body for 7 whole days, I could feel things arising. Thoughts and feelings would correspond to sensations in my body, and it was very clear to me that if I can feel something in my body, it’s worth listening to.
     
L.D.: Before I recognized the patterns of my thoughts, the same old repetitive patterns, I actually believed everything I was saying to myself. Then, I realized, that these judgements were just thoughts, and the same story over and over.
     
D.S.: I realized just how much time I spend being busy and chaotic and erroneously labelling this “productive”. I’m beginning to recognize the possibility of a clearer, more efficient and grounded way of moving through my days.
     
H.K.: How did you feel on the seventh day, when the retreat was over?
     
D.S.: A few hours after returning to the city, I was far more aware and mindful of the world around me and very sensitive to all the stimuli. I did everything more slowly and I spoke from a calm and grounded place. It was unsettling to find how easy it was to let my old un-mindful ways seep in and take hold.
     
L.D.: Just grateful. Grateful for the experience, and really more committed to the practices than I had been before.
     

S.H.:

I felt very open and connected to my heart. It was easy for me to feel warmth for others. I felt at ease in a way that I don’t always feel. The feelings of openness lingered with me for awhile—I remember being back in Toronto at the mall during the holidays, and I was almost overwhelmed by the colours and lights and sounds because my senses were so open.
     
H.K.: Any final words about the retreat?
     
S.H.: It was wonderful to experience this retreat with my colleagues from work. The staff here are so great, and to do it with them was really rewarding. Even though we weren’t able to talk to one another at the retreat, there was definitely a sense of support and community which I really appreciated. We’d all like to thank Dr. Kelly for allowing us to partake in such an enriching experience.
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The Mindfulness Clinic

We combine psychotherapy with Mindfulness to help you feel better and reach your goals.

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