Hello! My name is Kate and I’ve taken over the Happy Buddha blog for the day.
You may have seen me in such roles as ‘frazzled coffee drinker running late for a Zoom meeting despite being reminded by my computer 10 minutes ago’. Or ‘mindless doom-scroller, wondering why I feel so…bad’. Or my personal favourite: ‘anxious 30-something constantly on the brink of what feels like a mid-life crisis’.
Maybe these roles seem familiar. Maybe they’re similar to roles you’ve played yourself.
I’m surrounded by technology – both in my role for technology review site Reviews.org Australia and also as a freelancer. If I’m not checking work emails, I’m researching and writing articles, or scrolling (for far too long) on TikTok looking for content inspiration. Or I’m editing audio on my laptop and responding to messages from clients, and trying to promote my work on various social media platforms.
Even the tools I use for mindfulness: online yoga classes, calming Spotify playlists, audiobooks and podcasts – they all require the use of technology.
We ran a survey that said 51% of Aussies reckon they’re addicted to their smartphones, and I can see why. I think I’m on them. I’m sure I’m one of them.
So a weekend which is technology-free? Sign me up! Maybe it is time for a tech-detox!?
Journey to Stillness
A friend of mine had already raved about the Journey to Stillness retreat at Happy Buddha Retreats, and as someone with a regular yoga practice, it doesn’t take much to convince me to try a whole weekend of silent meditation. I thought it would be challenging, but I expected to feel calm, relaxed and grateful for an excuse to not speak to anyone for 48 hours. (I’m an introvert at my core).
I experienced so much more…
It’s a misty, drizzling Friday afternoon as I pull up into Wentworth Falls. Despite hating the cold, I think this is when the Blue Mountains are at their best. Hearing lyrebirds and black cockatoos off to the distance while the trees heave with water droplets, an ominous dark sky threatening to unleash itself any moment. There’s magic in the Blue Mountains, and it’s palpable when you arrive at Happy Buddha Retreats.
Peter, the facilitator, greets me at reception. Straight off the bat he’s warm, welcoming and clearly has a great sense of humour. He shows me to the retreat building, and I’m immediately grateful for the roaring fires. I’m staying in a room called ‘Savasana’ and it’s beautifully humble. Two ultra comfortable beds, a desk with mindful colouring in and some pencils, plenty of warm blankets and a view of the swaying eucalyptus outside. It’s simple, but at that moment, it feels like a luxurious five-star hotel.
It reminds me of camping. The less you have, the more grateful you are of what you do have. If someone handed me a cup of instant coffee at home, I’d probably tip it down the sink. But at 7am while the birds sing and the world wakes up, it feels like the greatest gift, and I savour every sip.
I guess that’s the point.
Six of us are completing the retreat this weekend, and we make the most of chatting before the silence kicks off that evening. The welcome circle allows us an insight into why each of us is here, and the reasons are as varied as the seasons. From wanting more connection with family, with creativity, with ourselves… I feel myself get quite emotional as everyone allows themselves a moment of vulnerability. I believe it takes courage to want change, and I’m humbled to be in the same room as these five beautiful souls.
Dinner is a delicious potato curry with dahl and rice, and I feel warm and content. I see some watercolour paints on the activity shelf and get excited at the prospect of using them. It’s not lost on me that I, in fact, have plenty of paints at home that I never seem to ‘have time’ to use. There’s always something else that needs to be done that takes a higher priority. But here, there’s nothing to do except be here, and I slosh paint around with the enthusiasm of a labrador at dinner time.
When we surrender our phones and the silence begins, I feel a weird sense of giddiness – like breaking the invisible umbilical cord that attaches me to my phone has given me a kind of buoyancy. I settle under my huge warm doona, read a few pages of the book I’ve brought with me (Candy Store by Jennifer Egan) and drift off to sleep.
We are woken by the ringing of a singing bowl, and I’m surprised by how easily I jump out of bed. I’m not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination, but soon I’m downstairs ready for the morning meditation session. I’m so eager in fact, that Peter reminds me the session doesn’t start for another 30 minutes. I return to the kitchen, make a coffee and watch the rain fall out the window. I can see currawongs, kookaburras, cockatoos, grey butcherbirds, crimson rosellas – I even spy a few female bowerbirds darting between tree branches. My instinct is to tell someone, but my tongue is tied of course, and I hold onto my little secret as though it’s a precious jewel.
The day is filled with meditation sessions, journaling, a sound bath, yin yoga, free time, warm, nourishing food made by the volunteers staying at the retreat, and my favourite activity of the day; forest bathing. Peter suggests we do this barefoot, and I rip my socks off straightaway to go walk around outside in the rain. One step onto the sodden, freezing earth and I regret my decision. The cold ground sends white hot pain through the soles of my feet, and I imagine it’s how walking on hot coals feels. I’m so angry with myself that I find it so hard, yet more time passes and I don’t give up. Eventually, the pain gives way to a strange, soothing warmth, and I have this sudden realisation that I spend so much of my energy worrying about the future; I’ll be happier once I achieve this goal, I’ll have it all together once I get this job, etc, etc, that I don’t spend enough time appreciating what’s right in front of me in the present moment.
It feels like an obvious epiphany, but it’s one I’m very grateful for. I always think that magic belongs to the future version of myself, forgetting that I can implement magic every single day.
And I swear, after this moment, the yellow wattle around me was brighter, and the blossoms smelled even sweeter.
I can only assume this is why people swim in the ocean on a freezing winter’s day, or take cold showers or ice baths. By experiencing discomfort, we are forced into the present moment. There’s no time to worry about whether you’ll get that job promotion in six month’s time when you can’t feel your fingers.
I look at the icy blue pool on the property and for a moment I’m tempted to test this theory further, but then decide… maybe next time. Baby steps, right?
Closing it out
We finish the weekend with more meditation, a delicious bowl of oats and fruit, and a closing circle. Like the opening circle, there’s a lot of vulnerability and emotions, and the general consensus is that taking time out for yourself to reconnect and have a break from the constant notifications (both online and offline) in our lives is very good for the soul.
I’m apprehensive about getting my phone back; I’ve really enjoyed not looking at a screen all weekend and have already mulled over a few changes to make back ‘in the real world’ to help restore balance. On the other hand, I’d been anxious about all the messages I’d no doubt missed from work clients by not being online. When you run a freelance business, it often feels like you need to be available 24/7 to keep your clients happy. If I’m not, the work will drop off, I’ll get negative reviews and the world will eventually collapse, obviously.
Guess what? There was not a single message.
And I think there’s a good lesson in that.
Words and images by Kate Reynolds ~ in return for her Journey into Stillness experience, August 2022. Experienced a silent retreat before? Kate wrote a follow up piece: Five ways to bring mindfulness back home.
Kate Reynolds is a writer who’s at her happiest when there’s haloumi on the brunch menu and a dog to give pats to. She writes monthly streaming recommendations over at 7News and gets her tech on at Reviews.org, where she also makes dorky TikToks. When not writing you’ll usually find her freelancing as a voice actor, in a juicy downward-facing dog, hiking in nature or practising her jazz hands for an upcoming amateur theatre musical. She writes on Wangal land.