Last week I have been on a 5-day silence retreat in a Buddhist monastery in England: 5 days of meditation and reflection. During the retreat “noble silence” was kept, this means no social talking, also we had to hand in our phones, laptops etc. “If you feel you will be unable to meet this request, we suggest you should consider whether this is the right time for you to come on a silent meditation retreat” is advised on the website.
The following is part of the experience of a fellow participant, as he described it in his blog https://russellkinguk.wordpress.com/:
“I knew that when I got there, I would have to hand in my iPhone, remain silent for 5 days, not eat meat for 5 days, not eat after midday for 5 days, sleep in a dormitory for 5 days, not have ANY contact with the outside world for 5 days, and so on and so forth. In my 46 years to date I had complied with none of the above rules/conditions before and certainly not for 5 days. So, you can imagine why it felt like a strange journey. I listened to some Steve Hillage on the way, the last music I would hear until my return the following week.
My journey home was strange. No music.
The iPhone was NOT missed for 5 days. Trust me – you really do get over it very quickly – in fact, it was a relief.”
His blog is really interesting to read completely! I recognize a lot of what he writes, with the main difference that he didn’t practice meditation before, so he really jumped into the deep!
After the retreat I had 177 unread messages in What’s App (mainly from groups). Normally I would have checked it every now and then, spending an enormous time. It was peaceful to spend 5 days without my Phone. Especially when I feel bored, empty or restless somehow, I tend to check my messages a lot. In that way a Phone, television and the Internet are often used to distract ourselves from unpleasant feelings. A 5 day retreat gives you no escape from those unpleasant feelings, but in the end you get used to staying with those feelings and you learn that it’s not that bad after all. In a “sharing” after the meditation another participant also commented “I have learned that I can stay without my Phone for 5 days. My wife often complains as I am constantly checking my Phone when we are together. I want to change this when I am back home”.
And with this said it brings me to notice a difference between the western world and developing countries: the amount of time spent with phones, social media and the internet (though this is changing in developing countries among youngsters and television seems to be an exception). Still I observed people in developing countries spending more time together and communicating without constantly being distracted by their phones. People do have phones and do call, but generally they use them to make short phone calls averaging less than one minute to coordinate some practicalities and than meet in person. This also leads to social talk, meeting new people on the street and in public transportation more often.
It was a culture shock returning to the Netherlands after spending five months in East Africa in 2012. My last flight was from London to Amsterdam and I was so excited to “meet” Dutch people again on this last flight. As I had spend so much time in Africa, where it was normal to converse with everyone around you. I was disappointed when I got to the gate and saw literary every person with a laptop, Ipad or Phone in their hands, each and everyone staring at his or her own screen. No person sitting and staring around open to start a conversation. I experienced a reversed culture shock with this “warm welcome” back.
If you want to take a lesson from this blog, maybe you can try to be aware at least of the use of your mobile Phone and other devices. Besides, maybe you can regulate your time somehow and experiment with leaving your Phone behind on some occasions. You will survive 😉 And maybe you will get the opportunity to meet some new people and have an interesting conversation.
Wishing you all the best! And please don’t hesitate to leave your comment to my blog below (even in Dutch, German or Spanish), as I would love to create some discussion!