Amma Toronto

Oct 19: Amrita Silent Retreat Immersion with Br. Ramanand

Retreat participants doing walking meditation

Amrita Silent Retreat Immersion: Finding Peace in Silence

Br. Ramanand speaking to a group outsideOn a beautiful fall morning, a group of devotees gathered in the Georgetown countryside to learn and assimilate the techniques of Amrita SRI – Silent Retreat Immersion. Amrita SRI is a silent meditation retreat experience created by Amma, as an antidote to the constant noise of modern life. Our daily life is besieged by frenetic internal and external activity and constant distraction. Our phones never stop buzzing. Our minds are as busy as a Tokyo intersection. Our sleep is disturbed by unwanted reminders, random thoughts, and persistent worries. We experience utter chaos, not knowing how to rein in these disturbances that have taken on a life of their own. In recognition of this alarming state of mind, Amma has urged her disciples in North America to conduct silent immersion retreats. Usually over span of seven days, retreat participants observe complete silence, and focus on developing inner energy and outer calmness in the face of everyday life challenges. Increasing our awareness brings meaning to life. These retreats reinforce existing spiritual practices, and provides a foundation for a lifetime of meditation practice. Benefits include clarity and strength of mind, increased sense of grounding amidst an ever-changing world, and overcoming stress and tension.

The Amrita Silent Retreat Immersion in Georgetown began with the chanting of Amma’s 108 names, and the Lalitha Sahasranamam to provide the perfect focus and ambience for the day ahead. Br. Ramanandji then provided all the ground “rules” for the silent retreat. Participants were asked to turn off their cell phones and place them at the back of the hall. Retreatants were asked not to look at them again until the end of the retreat.

Men walking amid cedarBr. Ramanand then guided retreat participants through a series of meditations: The first was a seated meditation with a focus on breathing. Br. Ramanandji then led a walking meditation. Unlike seated meditation in which one closes one’s eyes and turns the senses inward, during walking meditation, the eyes and senses remain open, and one focuses on the immediate sense impressions, keeping other thoughts in check. Participants were told to focus on the motion of walking - how the muscles and limbs engage and disengage with each step - something we usually do completely unconsciously. We usually take for granted the diverse, coordinated actions of our limbs, muscles and brain that propel us a single step forward. The cool, sunny fall weather, and the beautiful countryside provided the perfect backdrop for the walking meditation.  Participants were then treated to some light snacks and chai prepared by our wonderful kitchen team. The kitchen sevites carefully ensured that everyone was fed, and had a variety of options befitting all types of dietary needs.

After the snack break, the retreat group practiced another a second sitting meditation, seated on the floor or on a chair, focusing again on breath. Following the seated meditation, participants enjoyed a much-needed lunch, featuring scrumptious hot soup, vegetables, salad, bread, and apple crisp. While eating, participants were instructed to observe the tastes of the foods, the actions and sensations of eating, and the signals from the body indicating that one has eaten enough. How many times do we pay attention in this way to the meal we are consuming? Everyone was asked to maintain a respectful silence, and to observe how sound need not be created while eating. For example, one can dip the spoon into the soup, and ensuring that no sound is emitted from the clanging of the spoon against the bowl.

After lunch, everyone performed some karma seva in silence. One group of participants, headed out to the nearby orchard, and picked apples. The other group remained in the kitchen, cleaned up and helped the kitchen volunteers chop vegetables for the evening satsang dinner.

After the seva, Br. Ramanandji once again led the group in walking meditation. This time, he asked all present to observe not only how they walked, but also everything around us. For example, he asked us to pay attention to the bugs on the ground, the beautiful colours of fall, the sound and feeling of the wind in our ears, teasing strands of our hair. The final meditation session of the day was a sitting meditation.

As participants came out of silence, they were told to reflect on their personal learning from the retreat. The general consensus was that no one really knew what to expect at the start of the retreat. At the end of the day, everyone was truly touched deeply by the experience. Some participants said they were amazed at the level of awareness silence created in themselves. For example, during the walking meditation, participants became more aware of their surroundings, the display of fall colors, the little ant scurrying fast away from the human feet that might crush them.

Participants were surprised by the way the sound of silence becomes a harmonious symphony. After the sharing, participants took a walk around the orchard and once again, in silence, admired the beauty of the trees, the busy little caterpillars attempting to get a bite of juicy apples, and the sweet aroma of the matured apples dangling from the trees, inviting human hands to pick and savour them.  Toronto satsang thanks Br. Ramanandji and Amma for introducing this beautiful meditation to us. We hope that Br. Ramanandji will be able to spend even more time with devotees in future, so that we may experience this form of meditation again.

Om Amrteswaryai Namah

Group photo in orchard