Interest: Vipassana Silent Retreat – Can Vital

“Your body is always present.” This is what our teacher Christiane Wolf suggests in her Dharma talk at the retreat. Vipassana means “seeing clearly” or “insight meditation” , or  “التأمل الواعي” in Arabic. It concentrates on bringing awareness to our body and its sensations. Observing our thoughts and emotions without judgment, observing them just as they come and go. This mindfulness technique helps reduce stress and anxiety according to research, and from personal experience, it backs up this claim. It is a secular method of meditation with roots from Buddhist teachings.  Anyone from any religion or background can practice it. The schedule for the day at the retreat starts at 7 a.m. with an hour of stretching and a body scan meditation, followed by breakfast at 8 am, then back to the meditation hall for a silent meditation lasting 30 to 45 mins.  Then comes the walking meditation (30 mins), which consists of slow and mindful short walks, back and forth between sitting and walking meditation until lunch at 12:30 p.m.  A resting break follows until 3 p.m. where we do yoga outdoors on the deck, then we head back to the meditation hall with a talk about mindfulness techniques with a “loving kindness” meditation, which consists of sending love and compassion to people of your choosing; people you may like or dislike, to yourself or generally to all humankind. Dinner is at 6 p.m., and the final meditation of the day is in silence before bedtime at 9 p.m.

This repeats for:

One week 

Outskirts of Barcelona

Mountains of Mediona Catalonia 

We sit, alone

Twenty other meditators

Middle of nowhere

Fourteen nationalities 

All over the world

In a circle

Eyes closed

Breathing together

Into our minds

Understanding, curious, open

What our next thought will be 

Here and now

Alone, with others 

We listen to our brains

Our bodies 

Talk to us in silence

Yet so much chatter 

Silence

Here and now

Silence in our hearts

All to come to one understanding

Everything we do is in our heads. 

We were sitting, walking, eating, breathing, and sleeping in silence.

I struggled the first few days.  Leaving my kids, husband, family and friends behind as if I am now dead, with no trace of me, and all communication stands still for one week. Awaiting my awakening, or better yet, my understanding of the human brain. I didn’t see how much I was naturally distracted when I first realized that I couldn’t sit still by simply doing nothing.  I couldn’t read a book, listen to music or check my phone, which are things you do when you are alone right? Not in a silent retreat. You just sit down and watch your crazy brain go, just observing, until you are reminded by yourself to come back to either your breath, or sensations in your body.  Our body, which is always present.

This was my first retreat, a silent one! I was full of love and frustration at the same time.  I wanted to learn and get out of my comfort zone and I did, but I didn’t know how to be fully there, as my mind kept pulling me to moments and thoughts in the past or the future.  Every time I tried to be in the present I set a goal for the future.  For example, during a seated meditation, I was thinking about lunch time, or when I will go on my next hike, my mind racing and always wanting to do something, unable to be still.  This was my biggest challenge, more so than not talking which I was okay with.  My challenge was to find a way to just be there without thinking of the future or the past. I had a few glimpses of myself in the present moment but if you added them all up, they would barely make up a full day out of the seven days at the retreat! Sitting in silence doing nothing may create a different experience for each one of us, but in my opinion might result in the same outcome. We all come out of it better humans. Less angry or frustrated and more kind to ourselves and others. More compassionate and understanding of ourselves and others. I always say that everyone has a story, and we may all be suffering in our own way.  When I say suffering I mean, the stress and worry we carry in our heads, the inner voice that talks to us all the time through the good, the bad and the ugly.

Some of the lessons I’ve learned from the talks were: The 5 Mental Hindrances for being in the moment are:

1- Sleepiness. 

2- Restlessness and anxiousness. 

3- Wanting mind through the five senses.

4- Not wanting mind and ill will.

5- Doubt.

And Tara Brach R.A.I.N method to practice radical compassion, which stands for:

  • Recognize what is happening;
  • Allow the experience to be there, just as it is;
  • Investigate with interest and care;
  • Nurture with self-compassion.

Other topics included the differences between empathy and compassion which was a huge light bulb moment for me. Empathy is important to feel someone else’s experience, but sometimes it can have a bad effect on us especially if we take the pain of others as ours. Compassion on the other hand, is being kind and understanding of someone else’s suffering without embodying the pain.  You let it go through you without clinging or identifying with the suffering and pain. This way you can help people or help yourself without the emotional burnout. Of course, too much compassion and empathy can be harmful in both instances, especially with a selfish approach to be compassionate and empathetic.  That is why wise compassion is more balanced. Knowing when to help and when to be there can make a huge difference. 

I have learnt so much and it was totally worth the mental suffering.  I had to get out of my comfort zone to grow and be more mature about life. It was also good to slow down, especially in a world where everything moves so fast and so much is demanding our attention. I think I might do this once a year. Can Vital is such a beautiful property owned by a Danish architect and his Spanish wife. They rent it to all kinds of retreats. It has around 13 rooms, a beautiful kitchen garden, where our Chef, Cissi got most of the vegetables from.  She fed our souls impeccable vegan/vegetarian home cooked food while we meditated and sat in silence. The place has a sauna room, swimming pool, outdoor deck for yoga, indoor meditation hall, gym and dining /tea room.

The place was surrounded by beautiful views and trails, so its nature alone can heal, let alone the silence and meditation. Atmajyoti, which is a yoga center based in Sweden run by Vivika, was in charge of all our needs and demands and organized the whole retreat. I recommend any kind of retreat like the one I did once a year for mental and physical health. 

 

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Words: Rest In Peace: Hanan Alsager (13.06.1979 – 06.01.2018)

You will always be remembered Hanan, as the one who spoke her mind in complete honesty, without censorship and withholding no fears. But it was these same fears that consistently interrupted her life. Fears many of us share; of not being accepted, the fear of being alone, the fear brought on by our self image, the fear of what they will think, and the fear of not being loved. Nevertheless, she managed to smile and not take life too seriously. She had a great smile and beautiful eyes. Those eyes that sparkled with love when she felt love and those same eyes that couldn’t hide the sadness when she was down.

Hanan was born in the wrong time and in the wrong society. A mind not easily understood and an easy target for those not willing to listen. She had so much to say about life, and she delivered even with the difficulty she had in expressing herself. She often used music to express her thoughts, and Hanan was always up to date on her music. I remember her getting excited when she discovered an artist or a song that she loved. She would send them to me every now and then, and only later did I realize that much of it was her conveying her thoughts to the beats and words of others. I loved it when she got excited. Her whole body would light up. But she was also a stubborn girl. If Hanan desired anything, she would find a way to get it no matter what the circumstances. She could have been anything or anyone she wanted to be, but life had other plans and with its many distractions Hanan was easily distracted. She was one of those hyper sensitive people who can feel things really deeply and heavily. More so than the ordinary person. This was evident in her sense of empathy, and Hanan always encountered and related to people who life treated unfairly.

Hanan had a great sense of humor, and I remember her memorizing the lines of all the old Kuwaiti plays from “Mahthotha and Mabrooka” to “Bye Bye Landan”. We laughed, those laughs. She loved hosting people and getting people together. She loved giving those she cared about gifts. Thoughtful gifts. She thrived on friendships and we all have special individual memories of her friendship . She left an impression on anyone who knew her or encountered her whatever the circumstance. But unfortunately, she was alone most of the time, as she had to go away to find herself and that kept her away from her family and friends. Hanan passed away alone but in peace, closing her eyes to go to sleep never to wake up again. What a peaceful ending to a life filled with its ups and downs, its trouble and its laughter.

I love you Hanan, you have been part of my life and I have learned so much from you. We had fun together, the best time of my life actually, when we were young and free and rebellious. We had a lot in common. We used to run together, listen to music and scream from the top of our lungs the lyrics that changed our lives. We traveled the world, sharing our views on life, religion and philosophy in endless conversations. You had so much depth but you didn’t have the chance to share it all. I know that all you ever wanted was to love all the people you loved and freeze their attention with yours. Well know that you did, and it was too late for all of us.

I wish you were here to experience this turbulent life with us but I am also content that you died in peace and left us with great memories.

Here are some of the moments we shared together in life:

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