A few years ago I went on a 10 day silent Vipassana meditation retreat near Lake Tahoe, California. For 10 days you are permitted from talking, reading, writing, working out and watching television. The only time you are allowed to speak is if you have a question for the meditation teacher or the staff. At this retreat you are awoken every morning around 5am to go meditate for an hour. During the day, there are usually 3-4 meditation classes and in between you either sleep, walk around or just sit on your bed.
Was the experience amazing? Sure. It was Blissful. Ten days away from work and from chaos. Can you imagine not hearing your bosses voice or listening voicemails and reading emails? Complete and total bliss. But then I finished the retreat and went back to my normal life. It was great for a week when I got back. But then I went back to my old ways of being scared, nervous and stressful.
A few months ago, I had a co-worker that travelled to Peru to try the herb Iowaska. Iowaska is hallucinogen that is illegal in America. Taking this herbal tea is supposed to give you a feeling of love. People who take the drug are supposed to be at peace with themselves and be at peace and loving with others and treat others in a respectable way.
This was exactly the opposite of how my co-worker behaved. She was great for a week when she came back and then she was back to her old ways. She became selfish, self-consumed, stressed out and lashed out at everyone.
Why did a week away from reality not get us prepared for reality? This is exactly the reason I don't believe in spiritual retreats. Meditation and mindfulness is a practice of not reacting to your thoughts and feelings. For example, if you run into your ex you will have feelings of both love and loss. Without meditation you will react for days wondering what could have been in the relationship and with meditation you will act in a loving manner and say things happen for a reason and I am grateful for the experience I had with my ex.
The problem with retreats is that there are no triggers. A trigger is something that makes your mind go into fight or flight. For example, if you are dealing with financial hardships and you see a Mercedes that can trigger your mind into feeling low, angry and depressed. When you are on retreats you have no triggers. This is not reality.
Success is not about running away from our problems, success is running towards our problems and dealing with it.
Meditation and Mindfulness helps with this. Meditation is like having a mental umbrella. There will be days when it rains and it pours. However with this umbrella you won't get soaked. You will be on the offensive and go on with your day. Imagine if you walked out during a storm and you had no umbrella? You would get soaked wet. After being soaked you would run into your home and change clothes, look for an umbrella and run out. This whole process would cause stress and anxiety and anger.
This is what most of us deal with. We wait until a storm hits, get soaked and stay angry for hours, days and sometimes years. There are some people who I know who got soaked in life ten, twenty, thirty years ago and still hold on to that anger and stress.
This is why I believe in a daily twenty to thirty minute meditation practice. Meditation reduces stress, anxiety and fear. But you have to be in a setting where there are triggers. You have to deal with reality with real issues and real problems and real joy and real love.
A recent mindfulness study was made by teachers for their 4th and 5th grade class. What they discovered was that through mindfulness the students increased their empathy and their optimism and their depression decreased.
For the last year I have been teaching meditation at different schools from monastery schools to boys and girls clubs to special needs children. I have these students meditate for 15 minutes and then write down 10 things they are grateful for.
The students love the gratitude list and they especially love presenting the list in front of the class. Even students who are usually shy loved presenting in front of the class.
Why? The meditation helped cure their trigger of shyness and rather than reacting in shyness they acted and presented in the front of class.
Meditation works best in everyday life where triggers are knocked down and love and empathy are increased.