I spent the past week on a silent meditation retreat to know myself better and prepare for the Atlantic row. Here are 9 of the top things I learned, which may be helpful in your own journey.
9: Make Space for New Ideas
Throughout the week as I sat and cleared my head of thoughts, great new ideas showed up. At first the rush surprised me. But as the days passed, I saw why this happens: if you want a fresh idea, make space for it to grow.
8: Multi-Task Less, Get More (Quality) Done
Attention is one of our greatest assets. Why do we divide it? Focusing on one task at a time this week reminded me how much more effective that approach can be.
One habit I’m working to change is checking my notifications or email frequently or as a “break”. That’s neither a real break nor true attention to the email or app. So instead, I plan to check my email / notifications less frequently and intentionally. If I need to step away from a task, I’ll take an actual break, then return to the task with renewed focus.
7: Break It Down
Turns out sitting still for a week is like some of the races I’ve done: you have to break it down to manageable pieces. I structured my retreat in 10-15 minute sessions in hour-long blocks. This made it easier to begin and to keep going. Even at the end of an 8-hour day, can’t anyone sit for another 10 minutes?
This tactical idea helps make “discipline” into something accessible to anyone, and reminded me that this skill required for ocean rowing is thankfully something I know well.
6: Not Satisfied? Change Your Approach
All week I saw signs of pileated woodpeckers but never the bird itself. I wondered why. Then on my 6th and final day, I took a sunrise walk and finally saw one flying down the trail. I was so excited I did a fist pump and my inner child shouted with glee (silently).
Until that day, I did most of my meditation in the morning and I walked in the afternoons. While I could have seen the woodpecker at any daylight hour, seeing it on the first morning I walked and on my final day reminded me to think about new approaches more broadly. It may seem obvious, but if you keep approaching the a problem from the same angle, why would you get a new outcome?
5: Listen to My Intuition
Some of the most memorable moments this week came when I had no plan. I trusted my intuition of where to go and when.
Beginning a walk on my third evening after completing my day’s meditations, I felt drawn to go up a nearby hill. Not sure why, but something said to try it. I was delighted to find one of Earth Sanctuary’s Medicine Wheels, the skull of baby gray whale basking in the orange rays of the last evening sun. A short while later, I was gazing out at Mt. Rainier, enjoying what proved to be the only view of the mountain all week.
I did not follow a map to these spots – I just listened to my intuition to find them at the most perfect times all week. I often use being “busy” as an excuse – acting like intuition doesn’t fit into my plans. But that’s actually a great reason to create space for it. There are some moments you just can’t plan for – and if you allow for it, life can guide you to them.
4: Forget FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)
Earth Sanctuary is designed for meditation. Special outdoor spaces like the dolmen and stone circles are made specifically for it. But I did 95% of my sessions indoors. Why? Because as a total beginner, the fewer distractions and the more structure, the better my focus.
During my final walks around the Sanctuary admiring these amazing structures, I questioned whether I should have meditated at them more, instead of on the carpeted floor living room floor? After all, I love the outdoors, and isn’t what this is about?
I had to remind myself that no, I did not miss out. My intention this week was to keep my routine simple and achievable. Sitting for a week was already a challenge, and being outdoors wouldn’t make it any easier, even if the idea of it sounds nice.
Like regret, FOMO is a useless experience to carry with you. If you realize you would do something differently next time, that’s an insight you can use. (And maybe next time at Earth Sanctuary, I will meditate outdoors). But beyond making you aware, if you have ongoing FOMO or regret your decision, let it go. Focus on the future and trust your intuition.
3: Learn from the Trees
The meditation room in Earth Sanctuary’s retreat house looks out upon 3 towering cedars, who made me reflect on their qualities. Patience: what is a week of sitting to a tree that’s taken a century to grow to its height? And resolve: what can a tree do, but make the most of where it took root? Finally, love: how powerful do these trees grow, simply by reaching for the sky?
Each morning as I stared at these giants, I couldn’t help but feel humbled and inspired to learn from the trees.
2: Meditate to Build
In my pre-retreat post, I said I wanted to build inner strength. But I realized that strength is secondary to the real aims from my meditation. For me, a better description of my goals was cultivating self-awareness, compassion, discipline, and connection to nature.
Together these traits may appear as strength, but strength depends on the presence and balance of these other traits that come first.
1: Take the Leap – Done is Better than Perfect
There is no such thing as the perfect time. If you’re waiting for the “right moment”, that’s an excuse. I would know – I’ve used it plenty.
This retreat was like anything else – getting it done is better than getting it “perfect” because perfect, whether in timing or in execution, is only an idea.
I went into the week pretty unprepared. I have almost no meditation experience, and other than some advice from my sister and friend, I had little guidance. So I wrote some intentions to help guide me. My pre-meditation blog was far from perfect, but it got the job done as a jumping off point. I figured things out along the way and am so glad I did, because the week was an amazing experience that I will definitely do again, at least once per year.
Do you have an idea of perfection that’s keeping you from getting something done? Remember: done is better than perfect.
And a few personal notes to myself:
Prepare to be Scared. Yup, even me, your intrepid ocean rower-to-be is afraid of things that go bump in the night. Walking trails in the dark, I realized that I’ll probably be terrified during my first few nights on the ocean alone.
Wear Headphones Less Often. Music helps me cut through the noise and get to work, but wearing headphones can also take me away from the present. I intend to think twice before popping in the headphones, especially in public.
Make More Meals Myself. Cooking my own meals this week reminded me how easy a little meal prep can be, and how nourishing it is to eat your own food. Going forward, I intend to making more meals (however simple) during my few days at home each month.
Less Coffee. Harder than it sounds. To start, I am asking myself, do I need this coffee or does it just taste good?
Support Habitat Conservation. Earth Sanctuary (earthsanctuary.org) is 72 acres of wooded wetlands with a 500-year plan to return the land to old growth forest. I loved my time there. As I drove back to Seattle past so much logging and development, I was reminded that i want to live more sustainably and support more habitat conservation. I see this as one of the key pieces of my life’s work that I’ll focus on in the years to come.
Take Fewer Photographs. This is related to the headphones – I think taking pictures makes me less present. After I snap the pic, I stop really looking at whatever caught my attention. After this week of no screens, I realized that by taking fewer pictures, I may remember things even better.