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The Leaving Journal

Bali Silent Retreat

INDONESIA | Wednesday, 10 February 2016 | Views [838]

Retreat. It’s a word that makes me think of summer camps: a big lake, a canoe, tug-of-war and capture the flag. Or company team building: ice breaker games and trust falls. But it also has another meaning, a verb: to back away from something. Reminiscent of war films - a desperate command, shouted by the leader of the losing army. Retreat! Away from the noise, the battle, the chaos.

My retreat is in that category.

I arrived at Bali Silent Retreat on a windy February afternoon. I already knew most of what I was told in the whispered orientation: ashram-style, do your own dishes and make your own bed. Refrain from social talking and the use of electronic devices. No wifi, no power outlets. Programs change daily - see the chalk board for yoga and meditation class times.

I woke naturally on my first morning at BSR, just 15 minutes before the day’s first yoga class. The soft morning light filtered through my white mosquito net and the hum of the jungle filled my ears. I enjoyed the peaceful surrounds only momentarily before I realized I had an earth-shattering, brain-crushing headache. What had started as a dull soreness in my temples yesterday had grown into a demonic, hairy beast grinding at my frontal lobe with a hacksaw. I’m a pot-of-coffee-a-day girl. The Bali Silent Retreat is caffeine-free.

I dragged myself out of bed and walked through the medicinal herb garden, infested with colorful butterflies, to the Meditation Octagon, an open-air, white tent over a wooden platform, grimacing through all the delicate beauty. Maybe yoga would recenter me (and relieve the skull-splitting pain). The octagon was filled with a handful of my peers - most of the guests at the retreat are women between the ages of 20 and 30.

I’ve taken a few yoga classes. I’m impatient, which makes it hard. Flexibility is also not my strong suit. This class was simultaneously the hardest and most relaxing yoga I’ve ever done, because the poses were held for 3-7 minutes: a stark change from the more main stream (and much easier) “flow” yoga. This is lovely when you’re laying in a gentle spine twist, but miserable when you’re hanging like a rag doll on cold, tight hamstrings with all the blood rushing to your already-imploding skull. My visual for meditation was my brain - my poor, spongy brain, begging me for a cup of coffee.

I wasn’t able to kick the caffeine withdrawal headache for two days. What saved me was the glorious, locally-sourced, vegan fare. The food at this retreat is its most underrated quality. Breakfast was a spread of home baked sourdough and peanut butter, papaya jam, wheatgrass juice, wilted salad greens, raw garden salsa, pumpkin pancakes with palm honey, potato and taro root “hash browns” fried in coconut oil, banana coconut dumplings, sour dough bread pudding with ginger and papaya, an array of fresh fruit including watermelon, passionfruit, papaya and canteloupe, baked apples, muesli and cashew milk, and mung bean porridge. The only non-vegan option was the rich, yolky eggs from a waddling herd of ducks who wandered the rice fields around the retreat, eating algae that competed with the rice plants. Which basically brings a new level of glory to sustainable food.

So I ate - well, and often, and slowly. I read three books. I put my pen to paper. I did more painful-yet-pleasant yoga. I did some other, really hippy-dippy shit I never thought I’d do: guided meditation, sending glowing balls of warmth to various parts of my body, realigning my chakra energy centers, chanting mantras. I took countless micro naps every day - in hammocks, on couches, in the grass. I looked at bugs and plants and the sky. I did a whole lot of nothing.

I am not a mindful person. I am hungry. Food hungry, knowledge hungry, affection hungry. Hungry for new experiences, for challenges, for more. I shovel food into my mouth - usually too much of it. I talk too much and ask too many questions. I devour books obsessively, reading them under the table while I eat and staying up too late to finish them, sometimes in a day or a few hours. I touch, hug and kiss those that I love, all the time, incessantly, to the point of clinging. I binge watch television shows. I fight tooth-and-nail, even when I don’t have to.

While this hunger isn’t something I want to change about myself, it is something I realized about myself while at this retreat. Whatever I was seeking, I discovered that mindfulness - inner peace, quiet, and calm - just isn’t a part of my life. And I want it to be. I want to have more time, to create more time,  to enjoy the things that I love individually - a beautiful meal, a conversation with a friend, a good book - rather than frantically trying to consume them all at once.

And if you want that, too, then Bali Silent Retreat is the place to go.

Tags: bali, indonesia, meditation, relaxation, retreat, silence, yoga

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