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How a ten-day meditation retreat gave me space for radical presence

10 hours of meditation per day for ten days. Eat, sleep, meditate, repeat. Sounds like a nightmare? It was challenging, but my first Vipassana meditation course was perhaps the most profound experience of my life. I experienced a transformative aspect of The New Story.

The Old Story is one of separation from ourselves. We live in our heads, running from one appointment to the next, without feeling the ground beneath our feet. The attention economy surrounds us - continuously trying to steal our time and energy. Social media, advertising billboards and WhatsApp notifications pull us out of presence with ourselves. It’s a relentless bombardment.

Have you ever noticed how your body and mind feel after a mindless scrolling session?

Totally numb, right? With this sensory overload, disconnecting is a coping strategy. Unprocessed sensations flow into our being, building up tension in our bodies. And if we ignore our body for long enough, it crashes. No wonder we're burning out.

But by staying connected to our sensations, we maintain mind-body alignment, remaining centred. This is the core of mindfulness. Observing your breath, feeling the beat of your heart, the pressure of your feet against the ground. It's an art of living that can be practised from moment to moment.

I've sporadically explored mindfulness and meditation for a few years but wanted to go deeper. So I applied for a Vipassana and, two weeks later... received an acceptance email. Shit, now I actually had to do this - confronting my greatest fear: loneliness.

Ironically, walking towards my fear gave me a deep sense of belonging to myself.

For the first nine days, we held a "noble silence", renouncing our ability to interact with anyone. Without speaking, I could hear myself think. I noticed how and when thoughts emerged, seeing the impulse behind them and the bodily sensations that triggered them. I recognised that I was experiencing a taste of two crucial elements of The New Story: connection and presence.

Over time, my senses sharpened. After each meditation session, I walked silently in the most biodiverse garden I've ever seen. I appreciated butterflies of all colours, red squirrels leaping across pine trees, grasshoppers scratching their legs and mushrooms sprouting along meadows of wildflowers. Here’s a little snapshot:

On day six, I could focus on my breath for 10 seconds without a thought arising. And when it did, I could observe it as separate from what we consider "I". Bingo. The idea I've understood for a while but didn't truly believe: the self is an illusion.

We are mere vessels of consciousness, with thoughts and feelings moving through us.

I felt liberated. Knowing this at my core, changes everything.

Sounds super abstract and esoteric, right? I'm a rational thinker and historically very critical of spiritual mumbo jumbo. But science is catching up, with quantum physics suggesting that we are merely vibrating energetic particles connected across millions of miles. Consciousness is an emergent property, with thoughts and feelings arising from the mind-body connection of sensations from our environment.

What does this mean as changemakers co-creating The New Story of an abundant, regenerative world?

In confronting the existential crises our world faces, we are held by the web of life we are part of. We are nature defending itself. I find this deeply empowering. As changemakers, if we're merely present and open, life energy will flow to support us to address these crises. Even if it may feel like it, we're not alone behind our laptops with the weight of the world on our shoulders. We're always held.

We're liberated from attachment to "our" thoughts and feelings. As the old story unravels, we're waking up to the destruction that humanity is inflicting on the world. We are life grieving for the loss of fellow life. We can allow these emotions to flow through us, feeling them as sensations, then letting them go - rather than identifying with them and feeling burdened.

We are not our thoughts.

Thoughts merely flow into us from the Old Story that colonises our minds. By becoming aware, we can choose what story to believe - one of scarcity and separation or one of abundance and connection. Is the narrative of the individualistic, self-maximising consumer really true? What's the alternative? What life-affirming beliefs can empower us to co-create a beautiful, regenerative world?

After my Vipassana, I'm maintaining my practice, writing this newsletter after meditating for 1 hour this morning. Maybe you don't have the privilege to take this time. But why not try 15 minutes? I recommend Headspace or the Waking Up app.

Reconnecting with yourself and the web of life that flows through "you" is the foundation of The New Story. You have the power to do this, NOW. The Old Story will take time to fully unravel, but you can already embody the world you want to see. Planting the seed of presence will blossom fruits that you cannot imagine.

If you have the time for a 10-day retreat, I highly recommend following a Vipassana meditation course. It's donation-based and the centre in Belgium is marvelous!


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