Once in a while, I like to get out of the city and be close to nature. Alone. Somewhere a little quiet and away from all the unwanted distractions and noise. Recently, I had the urge to get away again and I decided to spend a few days in a rustic Rainforest Treehouse in nearby Johor, Malaysia. I told myself that I will make this a silent retreat and will disconnect from all humans and digital devices. I made it a point to only bring along my journal and a pen (three pens just in case). No iPad to watch my movies, no iPod to listen to my music, no book to bury my nose in. I had my mobile phone but that was to be switched off and kept only for emergency purposes. I was going to meditate and write, meditate and write. Right.
While making my way from home to the Rainforest Treehouse, I turned on and off my phone more times than I can count. I was seriously struggling with the adjustment and it made me realise how much reliance I have developed on my electronics. I certainly hope disconnecting from all of these digital devices for a little while would help me to reconnect better with myself and my surroundings again. When I arrived at my self-declared retreat centre, I had a sense that it would be difficult to create a space of 100% silence here. The family who owned the Treehouse and their helpers were more than eager to chat with me and take me around the area. I politely declined and explained that I was here to spend some alone time to do my reflections. I also managed my expectations about meal times as I would likely be eating with the host family and helpers.
380 steps up the hill amongst the trees to my own little Treehouse, I was happy to be the only guest during my stay. The family and helpers stayed at the base and I could be left to my own devices without any interruptions or distractions from up there. It was perfect. At least for the first couple of hours. Just enjoying the view from my hammock as I wrote and wrote. I saw a monkey swinging from tree to tree from my treehouse and heard the birds chirping away. And then I started to hear the silence. I felt my restlessness creeping in and kept fighting with myself to not reach for my phone. Still, I kept checking my watch for the time. Oh yay, 18:30! I went back down to the base for dinner and felt a sense of relief for some human interaction. So much for wanting a silent retreat, I thought to myself.
After dinner, I lingered for a little while reluctant to return so quickly to the silence and ended up having a conversation with two German volunteers about meditation. We shared our experiences and thoughts about it. They told me about how they had gone for an actual 5-day silent retreat in Sri Lanka recently and did not at all enjoy the experience from the second day onwards although they went through with it. It was as if this was a message from the Universe that not everyone is going to appreciate or benefit from the prolonged silence. When I returned to my Treehouse, I thought about how I had told myself I wanted to be doing more of what made me feel good and so perhaps it was time to stop resisting being happy right here right now. With that, I turned on my phone to put on some Spotify music and I continued to scribble away in my journal. I felt happy and smiled to myself. In that moment, I decided to call it a Self-Love Retreat rather than a Silent Retreat.
The next morning after my meditation, yoga, (more) writing and breakfast, I decided to go for a walk on my own despite kind offers to take me out again. As I was told that the hike to the nearby waterfall would take only around 20 minutes, I figured I could do without my bottle of water and poncho which I had left behind in the Treehouse. I walked for about 45 minutes and there were no signs to indicate how long more before I reached the end. There was a lot of uphill walking to do and my legs were starting to feel the muscle strain, especially given the steps I have to climb up and down at each meal time. Then it started to drizzle. I turned around for a brief moment remembering that I had seen a small makeshift shelter somewhere at the beginning of the walk. But I must be already more than halfway and there was no way I was going to turn around without seeing that waterfall. So I pressed on for another 30 minutes or so, as did the rain that came pouring down on me. I picked up the biggest leaf I could find on the floor and tried to use it as an umbrella. When I finally reached the end of the road, I was shocked to see some fenced up buildings at the end with a sign that said “Prohibited Area”. I looked around but I could not see any waterfall from up there. FML! That was my first thought. I laughed out loud to myself in a you-must-be-kidding-me manner and thought about how this was such a metaphor of life. We dream, we set goals or have expectations for ourselves and then we go on this journey towards it. We meet with challenges along the way but our resiliency carry us through. When we finally make it there, it may not always be like what we had expected and we may feel a sense of disappointment or frustration. But what else can we do about it? We can only laugh it off, embrace the experience, and make a U-turn or find another road to walk on.
After lunch, I had another interesting conversation with one of the German volunteers about going vegetarian as the meals prepared for us at the Rainforest Treehouse were all meat-free. I was completing my one week’s challenge of going vegetarian at that point, but I was not craving for meat as much as I had imagined myself to. Having been a vegetarian for over a year, he said to me, “there are more good reasons to go vegetarian than to eat meat.” I nodded in agreement, but I was also sure some people would disagree with this. Personally, I was sensing that my experience with vegetarinism was more than just a challenge for myself to do something seemingly impossible for me. Yet I could not really explain why I felt a stronger desire to avoid meat than the craving for it.
That evening after another few hours of solitude in my Treehouse, I was treated with live acoustic music and singing by one of the volunteers. That moment became was one of the highlights of this retreat for me. Music connected people. I also grabbed a book by Paulo Coelho called The Fifth Mountain to read before bedtime. This book must not have been just a pure coincidence. I had no intention to read at all when I came for this retreat. I could have picked any other book, yet I picked one that resonated with my life. The book felt like a gentle reminder for me and the following quotes jumped up most:
“If you have a past that dissatisfies you, forget it now. Imagine a new story of your life, and believe in it. Concentrate only on those moments in which you achieved what you desired, and this strength will help you to accomplish what you want.”
This resonated with everything I have been reading and listening to about the Law of Attraction.
“A child can always teach an adult three things: to be happy for no reason, to always be busy with something, and to know how to demand with all his might that which he desires.”
How I long to be happy for no reason too. How nice it is to always be busy with something, even if it is being busy with doing nothing. How liberating it is when I allowed myself to follow my heart’s desire to achieve a sense of balance on this retreat. But will I be able to apply this to my life outside of this retreat?
Before I left the next day, I stood at my Treehouse and thanked the Universe for the opportunity to be here. I had a nice breakfast with the host family and felt more than ready to go home. Apart from using my phone for music and meditation, I had managed without connection with the world outside of the rainforest. Something tells me that good things are coming my way and the anticipation for an abundance of positive experiences excited me. I made a note in my journal of some takeaways from this Self-Love Retreat and I wanted to share them here as well:
- I need to strive for BALANCE in life. A balance of time to do nothing and time to do something. Time to be alone and time to be with people.
- I do not necessarily need silence to gain insight or awareness. I simply need to be present and mindful in whatever I am doing.
- It is perfectly okay that I do what my heart desires and turn down others’ requests/suggestions to do something else against my heart’s desires. I do not need to feel bad or guilty for putting myself first.
- I am not responsible for someone else’s unhappiness and need only to care about my own happiness. As such, I do not need to let someone else’s unhappiness affect me to the point that I am unable to focus on being happy.
- I am braver than I think it. It was scary to walk alone through the dark forest with just a headlight and getting out of my bed in the middle of the night to investigate strange noises, but I did it anyway.
- Stop resisting or fighting ‘unwanted’ thoughts. The more I try to resist the thinking, the more they try to haunt me. All I have to do is to play with these thoughts and let them linger for as long as they want to. Soon enough without me realising, they will disappear by themselves.
- Always expect and move towards whatever the heart desires, even when life brings unexpected disappointment, failure, frustration or pain. We are resilient by nature and we can move on to greater experiences and better things in life, if we believe it.
“We deserve all good things that life has to offer us.”