India - a silent retreat with our spiritual master
When we read about this pilgrimage of our spiritual master Paramahamsa Vishwananda, we were having a grin on our faces. A silent retreat in one of the noisiest countries of the world - this sounded like a special experience. Well, just joking...... we know very well that there are regions in India you can find perfect silence, especially when you do not aim for an external silence but an internal silence. I am talking about a silence in your own mind. And this was what we were looking forward to.
Well, coming back to the trip. From Delhi our group took a short flight up north to Dehradun. Here we were welcomed by 3 buses which finally took us to our amazing hotel near Haridwar which took about 1,5 hours. To name it a hotel is definitely wrong. The Aalia is a luxury resort right at the Ganges. Never ever in our travels have we stayed in such a place! It has all the amenities you can wish for. And it was definitely a quiet place.
We quickly settled down in our nice rooms. We had a late lunch and then Paramahamsa Vishwananda took us to visit "Ananda Jyoti Peetham", the samadhi of Anandamayi Ma. This is the site where the great 20th century saint is buried. She was a saint from Bengal who is known all around the world and considered to be an incarnation of the Divine Mother. We spent about two hours at Anandamayi Ma’s samadhi as we attended the prayers and evening puja (a puja is a special ritual in hinduism) that was taking place. Before the puja that evening, we also went with Guruji to the Ganges where He blessed each one with the holy water.
Later that night, after returning from the temple, Guruji gave a satsang (a talk where we could also ask questions) about the topic that will dominate the next 3 days: Silence. He explained exactly how the group should practice the upcoming silent retreat but most of all He explained what it means to be in "silence" or in "Great Silence". He shared that inner-silence is not about external things, it’s not about thinking "I'm not talking so I'm in silence." He mentioned that it's not a physical process but it’s a mental process. Only in inner-silence can we touch this deep silence – "Only here (in this inner-silence) can you listen to the Voice of God."
After the satsang, and a "good night" from Guruji, the silent retreat began and the first day in Haridwar had concluded.
Well, as a couple, being in silence for 3 days was a very special experience. No talking at all. We also had to try not to make any noises (for example while walking, dressing or eating). The first day in the morning we did Babajis Surya Namaskar (sun salutation) followed by meditation. Then there was breakfast in silence. After breakfast we went on a meditative walk for 2 hours around the countryside with Paramahamsa Vishwananda. After lunch it was time to sit still in our room. Our task was to observe the mind, to oberserve what was poping up and what your feeling were with the things that came into your mind. The minute I started, there was kind of a rock concert in my mind. So many things were coming up, my mind was constantly jumping around. This was not silence of all - I honestly was shocked how noisy I was inside. Markus about felt the same. By the time of dinner we had both written many pages of papers - just by observing our minds for a couple of hours in the room. Uffff, we were quite tired. That was a clear lesson of how our minds make us so exhausted just by jumping around like restless monkeys. Time to get this monkey mind a bit under control. But this is what we were there for. After lunch we had to go back to the room and do some other meditations before calling it a night. First day of outer silence and inner noise had passed.
The following day started like the first day. But after breakfast a big surprise. Our spiritual master took us to the Ganges for an Abishekam. He explained that in the Hindu tradition, the water is a holy element and that the water of the Ganges river is believed by many to spiritually purify all the oceans on earth. That's why you often see people sprinkle a little bit of water onto their head before entering. Thus, Guruji invited us all to dive into the Ganges with an open mind and to pray for purification. He said to have this attitude is very important and that, “If you want to purify yourself, you can't allow your negativity to block the purification.”
He continued on with this analogy: "Do you think, that if someone throws into the Ganges a plastic water bottle, with the lid closed and with dirty water inside, that the Ganges will purify the water? No! If the bottle doesn't open, the water can't be purified. It's the same with your mind. If you don't open the mind, this same mind cannot be purified.”
After the talk, Guruji performed the abhishekam. And then, suddenly, Guruji started to toss Ganges water on each of us. It was a great blessing to experience the abhishekam, especially whilst the entire group observed silence.
After the abhishekam, Guruji led the group on a scenic japa walk. Before beginning the walk, some members of the hotel staff drove us to the forest by jeeps and we got to have a wonderful view of the countryside of this area. After crossing some little rivers and climbing up a hill (all in silence, of course), we arrived at the samadhi of a local saint known as, SitaRam Baba. SitaRam Baba was a great saint who lived for approximately 400 years. He was known to speak and sleep very little throughout his life as well.
Afterwards, we continued our japa walk back to the jeeps. We had a late lunch and then it was back to the room for more contemplation and observing of the mind.
And then the last and most challenging day of the silent retreat. A full day we spend in the room only coming out for food. But it was not just a room - each one of us was to sit alone in a dark room without any distraction from the outside. Wow, to be honest, this was scary in the beginning. Still I had so much noise in my head. And the most challenging part for both of us was sitting still the whole day. Well, to be honest, we failed. We had to move because our bones were aching. But as the day in silence continued, my mind was getting a bit tired of thinking. It was this "I do not want to think about these stupid things any more". Cool, it was not easy to deal with it, what else was there to do for hyperactive people like us than think in the dark. But finally we were coming to a point of a taste of something like silence. And it was such a nice and peaceful feeling. In the evening the silent Retreat was over and together with Paramahmsa Vishwananda we sat around a bonfire under the stars, talked about the experiences of the retreat and sang and danced. It was so beautiful and we were so very grateful to be able to spend time with Him. What a grace we got!
And it was also beautiful as a couple to do the silent retreat. All of you who know Markus, know how he loves talking ;-). So it was nice to experience that we also get along without saying a single word and just look in each others eyes. 3 days was much too short and we might go for a longer retreat if our Guruji allows us to do it with him. The silence is such a precious experience in nowadays life and it helps you to advance on your path. We have a lot of "homework" to do now. Although we have not experienced deep inner silence we are much more aware of different aspects and weaknesses of ourselves. Now it is time to work on this.
Our pilgrimage with Paramahamsa Vishwananda continued after the Silent Retreat. More about it in our next blogs.