For less than £100, you can spend 10 days on a meditation retreat in Northern India at the Tushita Institute, located a short distance from the Dalia Lama’s residence in Dharamsala.
This was by far the most beneficial thing I’ve ever done for my mind and soul. In 2013, I spent five months travelling around South East Asia and towards the end of this trip, during my 7-week visit to India, this retreat was by far my high point.
Why take part in a 10-day silent retreat
I took part in this 10-day silent retreat after much deliberation because let’s face it, it doesn’t sound like the easiest thing to do, especially when you’re backpacking solo around a crazy-different albeit beautiful country. To stay silent for ten whole days? Oh boy. I changed my mind several times, visited the centre before hand, cancelled my place, rebooked my spot, cancelled my reservation again and then finally came to the realisation that I will probably never have this opportunity again and worst case scenario, hey, I could always leave half-way through if it was an absolute nightmare – no one was going to hold me to it. Only me. And actually, that’s what enabled me to complete the full course in the end. I knew I owed it to myself.
Being silent and reflective for that long isn’t something most people will ever have to attempt. So why would you? Well, I guess to actually get to know yourself properly without the countless distractions of every day life. It’s a scary thing to potentially spend that amount of time with yourself yet it’s an opportunity to face up to all sorts of interesting things.
Not only did I really get to grips with Buddhism and the philosophy surrounding the principles of meditation but I gained a huge amount of self-awareness, gained invaluable clarity on a few areas in my life, I became to understand my thought patterns, my triggers, my fears, my crutches and my vices – one of these is food, I never realised how obsessed I actually am with mealtimes. I’ve always been aware that I love food but it was something that plagued my thoughts constantly during the regular daily meditations. I also learnt more about what really makes me tick, discovered how to put my ego to one side and really experience life through a soundless mind. Whilst I was there, it felt a truly authentic way to live, the only way I should be living. There wasn’t anyone to impress, least one’s self. I surfaced from the retreat floating on Himalayan clouds. I felt like a different person and I can safely say, during this time and for quite some time following afterwards, was one of the happiest time of my life.
Of course, when you do this kind of ‘work’ on yourself, you have to invest an entire lifetime. Although ten days can really charge your path and fuel a deeper understanding of your mind, this was only really the beginning for me.
What happened during the retreat
During my stay there was an itinerary of daily talks, discussions and meditation techniques, learned from experienced teachers and monks. Set in the forested hills of McLeod Ganj, the only other inhabitants included daily passing troupes of brown and snow monkeys. Most of the 10 days is spent in silence as I immersed myself in a friendly and encouraging environment. I loved the fact there were so many different nationalities – at least 20!
Early morning and at sunset, the monkey troops were our entertainment as they swung from the prayer flags and stupas, and would steal various items from the centre right before our powerless and silent faces.
Every morning began with meditation in the beautiful Gompa, after which we enjoyed a breakfast of freshly baked rolls, honey and butter, chai tea and banana porridge as we watched the monkeys at play.
After more meditation, a daily lecture, a class discussion (this was the only time we were permitted to speak, for around an hour), a spot of karma yoga (assigned chores around the retreat centre). Then a vegetarian lunch, usually: Dahl, rice, vegetable stir-frys, mung bean salads, sometimes home made chips or baked potatoes, bean stews, homemade soups and more freshly baked rolls – yep, another mention of food :-). The afternoons were filled with more teachings and meditation sessions. Then chai masala tea at 3pm.
The body of the course is composed of philosophy classes supported by meditation sessions, all within a silent retreat environment.
About the retreat centre
Tushita has an international reputation for this course where Tibetan Buddhist philosophy and meditation is taught from a modern perspective, giving practical tips to help you apply this ancient wisdom to increase peace and happiness in your daily life.
A suggested donation of around £75 for 10-days includes dormitory accommodation, three vegan meals a day, afternoon chai tea and all classes. For more information go to: http://tushita.info/programs/introduction-to-buddhism/
Photography: All photography in this post was taken by Roots and Toots. Please ask permission before using.