Words from poet Danna Faulds come to mind while reflecting on this new year. “As many times as I forget, catch myself charging forward without even knowing where I’m going, that many times I can make the choice to stop, to breathe, and be, and walk slowly into the mystery”. The poem ‘Walk Slowly’ can serve as a gentle and helpful reminder to take a pause and slow down when we find ourselves rushing through our precious lives or tearing into January, setting ourselves habitual yet often unattainable goals. It is very easy today to welcome the newness of 2024 and feel grateful to be alive in this part of the world with beautiful blue skies, sunshine, and crisp clear air outside. The sun is casting lovely shadows and spreading warmth around the room, there’s still a holiday feel in the air, no need to rush.
I was fortunate to spend five days of the holidays on a silent meditation retreat, the benefits of which I can feel in every fibre of my being. After a few weeks of excess, the retreat was a very welcome combination of seated meditation, walking meditation and gentle yoga. Neither austere nor lavish, this retreat was simple and modest with daily starts of 5.45am and the provision of two meals a day. Stripped away of our usual comforts, for example, phones and books, and without adornments, like jewellery or make-up, leaves us only with ourselves, which can be challenging enough and experienced as a coming and going of pleasant and unpleasant thoughts, emotions, and sensations.
Sitting together in stillness and in silence, a sense of emptiness or even ‘nothingness’ can deepen on the inside, which I found profoundly healing. A clearing out of the everyday clutter, which usually fills the mind, offered a clear seeing of the contents of my mind over these few days. Mostly old, random thoughts and memories, sometimes repetitive, and not of my choosing, drifted in slowly and one by one. Some memories were comforting and reassuring, and others were of regret or possible ‘wrong’ turnings that I had taken in life. I was able to see each one, and acknowledge to myself that, yes, that was me, I did that, or I behaved in that way. To let things go, we must first acknowledge and feel them. By holding the difficult thoughts, images, and memories gently and compassionately in awareness and feeling the accompanying, for example, shame or regret, the thoughts and feelings seemed to dissipate and move on of their own accord.
Consciously cultivating a willingness to unearth and face discomfort rather than bury it allows for real growth. It’s a taking responsibility for ourselves, an acceptance of our humanity and our imperfections and is the very opposite of denial or distraction. Brene Brown defines integrity as “Choosing courage over comfort; choosing what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy; and choosing to practice our values rather than simply professing them”. There is an integrity to mindfulness meditation practice that I both admire and aspire to, a facing into all of life, within us and in the world around us, rather than cherry picking only the bits we like.
There were also many exquisite moments of peace and stillness at the retreat, and at the end we spent time reflecting and writing the things we wished to let go of from the year gone by, as well as writing our intentions for the new. What a lovely activity to do collectively as we stepped over the threshold from one year to another, sending our wishes out into the world. Is there something in this moment that you need to let go of to ease this transition into a new year? What is your intention for the coming year? Or your intention just for today?
Spending days in silent meditation may not be for everyone but I highly recommend introducing silence as an intentional mindfulness practice to build slowly and with support. There are simple things we can do, like turning off the radio at home or in the car now and then, so we can become more aware of our thoughts and feelings but also the sights and sounds around us as we walk or drive. Removing earphones when going for a walk helps us be more present as we walk and open up to what’s coming through our senses. Leaving the phone behind as often as possible when going for a walk or limiting your time on the phone and other devices helps to make space in our minds, as does the practice of mindfulness meditation.
Do consider trying mindfulness meditation this year. These compassion-based practices help us to grow in compassion for ourselves and others. Weekly drop-in compassion-based mindfulness practice sessions continue at CECAS, Myross Wood, Leap on Tuesday mornings through-out the year (January 9, 16, 23 and 30) from 10am-11am. €10. All are welcome to join this wonderful community of practice.
For more information, phone: 087 2700572 or email: email@example.com