The Silent Retreat without the Silence

My initial foray into the world of silent retreat began almost 20 years ago. Only, it was more like a rock concert because the monkey mind was in complete control. The world of the mystic has always captivated me and following years of meditation I decided to go “deeper” and spend a couple of days in a hut in the middle of a forest surrounded by beaming monks. The aim was to take the mediocre calm that I had experienced into the realms of mystery I had read so much about. I closed the door of the hut, with great expectations and the concert began.

A cacophony of the wildest variety of thoughts imaginable began their assault on my quest. The body itself became a major source of dissonance. Aches and pains previously unknown came into existence and the ability to sit still escaped me. The whole concert lasted around a day and a half until I fled to the known of the world of the occupied mind.

Ten years of dedicated meditative practice behind me and I remained unable to go deeper than the most superficial limiting thoughts. Either I was a spiritual dunce or it really does take many years for even the most shallow encounter beyond the mind. In this world of the quick fix and instant results I am not sure the instruction to sit still for a couple of hours every day with the promise of transformation in around 20 years will go down so well.

Meditation has become a buzz word in our culture with the fields of neuroscience, sport, coaching, teaching and a plethora of others paying it escalating attention. The promise of shrinking the amygdala and eradicating anger resonate with many. A deep experience of bliss is rarely even mentioned. And this takes me back to the mystics who drew me in during a curious youth. You see, the mystics promise a magical experience of deep bliss. The purpose of meditation is to go beyond the mental world and experience bliss directly.

My suspicion is that all human beings have this latent desire to go beyond. There is a flickering of recognition deep down that needs to be nurtured in order to set the inner flame alight. Whatever external situation we may find ourselves in this life, we have the capacity and desire to go beyond.

I often get asked what is meditation. It is a state that happens spontaneously. A sense of coming home and stepping firmly out of the circling monkey mind. Every practice is simply setting the scene for this experience to engulf your whole being. A key element to this preparation is physical stillness. Can you sit completely still for a minute.. or an hour.. or completely lose any sense of the physical body for days on end? Cultivate this stillness a minute at a time.

The next element of meditation is focus. Where do you place the attention and how well toned is this muscle of awareness? Simple awareness of bodily sensations, particularly inner sensations is the gateway to bliss. Focus in its many guises is the key to life. The art of focus is being slowly lost in this world of fast moving external attractions.

For me, this has been a long road home. Over 20 years of sitting without any return and no clear idea of what bliss actually feels like. Every second laying the foundation was worth it. The flicker of recognition within has served me well. If you are aware of a subtle existential itch that you are far greater than your wildest perception, keep digging. Keep laying the foundations and the experience of meditation is bound to manifest. Working with a variety of people across the globe, I have noticed that its only when this flicker is ignited that life can truly set itself on fire and deep bliss can be known within the hustle and bustle of daily life.

Be bold and follow the whisper within…


  • Kate Kerr says:

    Hi Daniel, I am THRILLED to read this post. My husband brought it to my attention, SO glad he did. What a refreshing, honest and powerful account of silent retreats, thank you for sharing about this – and the long road and why it’s worth it. Keep smiling, Kate

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