Okay everyone, this is my attempt at the fast track to Enlightenment!!
I’m going to reach the ranks of Buddha, Christ, the Dalai Lama and more --- all in 7 days!
I ended up doing a meditation retreat in the mountains of Colorado at the Shambhala Mountain Center (SMC) in Red Feather Lakes. I’m going to ascend like the Masters before me!! To get to the retreat center from downtown Denver you drive an hour north to the city of Fort Collins and from there you go mostly west for another hour to find this 600 acre property nestled at around 8,000 feet above sea level.
The location where the infamous Mind Guy becomes a walking and living relic of omnipotence!!
It's been on my mind for years to do something like this especially after hearing about a friend's eye opening experience during a Vipassana -- a 10-day silent meditation retreat. I've heard of life changing and even mystical encounters happen during these periods of going inward. Participating in one of these has been on my bucket list, but for starters let's try out a week-long partially silent retreat.
Will I become a mystical being, floating into thin air?!?! I will do my best.
I had planned an ayahuasca retreat the week of March 8th in Colombia and due to a lack of committed travelers I had to cancel the trip. I don't know if you believe that the universe (or forces beyond our nature) guide us during certain points of our life, but more and more it occurs it’s happening that way for me.
It was perfect timing for my psychedelic excursion to Colombia being canceled during the influx of the Coronavirus in the states and across the world. It could have caused a lot of havoc being sick in another country. This would have brought on challenges, like traveling back on a plane with the potential of contaminating an entire group of people. In my earlier days I would have been that reckless.
I find the universe guides me in a specific way. It seems to always provide me with information in a sequence of three's -- hinting that I should either buy that book or take that trip.
A couple months ago I was sharing with a coach and friend how my thoughts were cluttering my mind and the brain fog was making it impossible for me to be productive. She shared about these meditation retreats here in Colorado and often they give a tuition free scholarship the first time you enroll.
Then, two of my online spiritual teachers continued talking about silencing the voice in your head to acquire clarity and enlightenment. Even though I have cleared so many programs from my past, I never took the time to silence the voice in my head. After a quick online search I found the Shambhala Mountain Center only 2 hours away from me.
I applied for the scholarship on their website and within a day or two I received an email response letting me know I was approved for the week-long "Open heart, Clear Mind" meditation retreat. The amazing thing was the cost was only going to be $335 out of pocket. It was tuition free and the costs were for a shared dorm room of 6 beds and all my meals.
I was pretty excited. How often do you get an all exclusive week long vacation for that cost? Although I did not know if this would be a vacation or actual work. Regardless I was willing to find out.
Day 0 - Friday
I'm not the best planner. I did zero research on what would happen on this week long retreat, besides for meditation of course. Did I know if it was going to be completely silent? Not at all.
I was prepared to meditate from 7 am till 9 pm daily, with meals in between. I packed lightly, took an Uber on a Friday afternoon up to Fort Collins to meet my friend Leah who saw my Facebook request asking if anyone else wanted to go on this endeavor with me. Together we drove through a snow storm to get to the hidden and nestled retreat center.
The first thing I noticed when I stepped out of the vehicle was how quiet it was. I was starting to believe that I could reach the Zen state surrounding me. Living a few blocks away from downtown Denver I almost forgot what stillness was like. It's been awhile since I was out in nature like this.
Due to the COVID-19 spreading quickly through the US over half of the participants of the retreat canceled, mostly ones coming from longer distances. Even the leader of the retreat Susan Piver, from Boston decided not to take the risk in traveling.
My dorm mate Shaun knows Susan from a retreat he did at Kripalu in the Berkshires last year, he said there was certainly going to be a missing without her leading the retreat, but he reaffirmed it was meant to be this way. Friday night we met for orientation to get a sense of what this week would entail in the midst of the pandemic, causing disruption to the normal flow of life.
There was a total of 12 people in the room when we met. Three of them responsible for the oversight of the program, with our young fearless leader named Loden. Shastri Loden is a calm, quiet 33 year old Buddhist monk that trained for 10 years in Nova Scotia. He was also down to earth referencing how he enjoys eating Cheetos and watching Netflix.
We mostly went through logistical information and shared a bit about ourselves. I shared my intentions for the trip with the group. This is what I was looking to get out of the retreat:
1) I wanted to open my heart up more.
2) I wanted to learn how to silence my mind.
3) I wanted to better connect to source aka Enlightenment!!
The group was solid. These types of retreats attract kind, gentle-nature individuals. There was going to be little disruption from this group and I could focus on achieving my intentions.
Now the only question is can I reach a state of Enlightenment and feel divinity flow through my veins?!
- 7:00 – 8:00 am Rest or Optional Morning Meditation
- 8:00 – 9:00 am Breakfast
- 9:00 – 12:00 pm *Meditation
- 12:00 – 12:30 pm Free Time
- 12:30 – 1:30 pm Lunch
- 1:30 – 3:00 pm **ROTA & Rest Period
- 3:00 – 4:15 pm *Meditation
- 4:15 – 4:45 pm Tea Break
- 4:45 – 6:00 pm *Meditation
- 6:00 – 7:00 pm Dinner
- 7:00 – 8:15 pm Discussion or Free Time
- 8:15 – 10:30 pm Free Time
*Meditation – Typically we would meditate for 30 minutes and then move to either 10 minutes of yoga stretching or walking meditation where we would sit once again for meditation
**ROTA – This is an acronym for assigned cleaning duties that everyone was assigned to. I was responsible for the men’s bathroom.
I was in a dorm room with 6 beds. There were four of us for the first weekend, two gentlemen were doing separate 3-day retreats and left Sunday afternoon. The beds were single size and comfortable; much nicer than my University of Massachusetts days.
The building was very much like a university dormitory, likely built within the past 5-10 years. The space was clean and comfortable. We shared a bathroom and showers.
One of the most interesting parts of the trip was who I ended up spending the rest of the week with in this shared space. More so the similarities between me and my dorm mate Shaun.
Shaun is my exact same age of 37, he drove all the way from Montreal for this trip. He has the same profession as me --- a coach --- although he focuses on love and relationships, while I focus on patterns and behaviors.
Other similarities is that we both have never been married, zero kids, yet Shaun is in a committed relationship with someone that he really digs.
Both of us have rescue dogs and they are the same age of 6. Brody is the name of my pup and Roger is the name of Shaun's rescue. Shaun and I also had our run in with alcoholism and both of us have been sober for at least 7 years.
Another funny similarity is that we both are quick to judge in our own minds, not in a way to cause harm, just a pattern we both developed from an early age.
There is a cafeteria where all meals took place. Everyone in our group talked about how spoiled they were over the cuisine. The cafeteria had both meat, vegetarian and vegan options. I am vegetarian and was impressed with how good the food was.
It was assembly line feeding, with no restrictions on how much you could eat. The cafeteria was open at all times in case we wanted to grab a snack like fruit, a PB & J sandwich or a granola bar. There were at least 12 tea variety selections, which was part of our afternoon ritual.
There was great variety in our meals. During the afternoon tea break they provided us with a tasty snack which allowed us to replenish the body and mind from all the energy lost during our concentrated efforts while meditating.
Eventually when the CDC and the state of Colorado put restrictions on restaurants and dining areas, we ended up eating outdoors at the picnic tables.
Day 1 – Saturday
I woke up excited to start my journey of Enlightenment. I was wondering as I was walking along the snowy pathways if anyone at the Shambhala Mountain Center has ever reached Enlightenment in such a short period of time?
Likely not. I’ve always heard that it takes a lifetime to reach this state and most who go down this path never reach this profound state.
Already there was magic in the environment. The way the snow molded around the trees branches made for one of the most beautiful sights of nature I’d ever seen. This was a good start to an amazing retreat!
The morning meditation begins and I discover something troubling. I’ve never meditated like this before. Meditation in Buddhist teachings is with eyes open, fixating on one spot as you concentrate to the point of disappearing any lingering thoughts.
I’ve always meditated with my eyes closed, going into a deep state of trance.
The morning session seemed a bit easy for me. I put a lot of effort into concentrating my thoughts away. I was certain it would take very little time to reach this infamous state of Enlightenment!! At this rate maybe only half the week.
Although the afternoon session was a lot different. I must have been fatigued because I could no longer stop the flood of thoughts streaming into my head.
I realize something profound through this experience. I have way too many gosh darn thoughts!!
Granted I know that a research study shows that we humans have 50-80,000 thoughts a day. I think I exceed that number daily. My monkey brain goes so fast I’m likely closer to 100,000. I was overwhelmed by the thoughts coming in and more so the inability to stop the train of thoughts coming in.
Meditation is all about quieting your mind so you can have more clarity. In the first day these were my big takeaways when clarity did show up.
- I’ve lost a lot of time and energy allowing random thoughts to pop up and even worse spending time entertaining those thoughts.
- I realized I always have to be doing something and most of what I do in a day is spend time with my thoughts. Thinking = Doing --- which isn't true!
- My thoughts are repetitive and annoying; in fact when I’m spending time with my thoughts I’m not doing much of anything. It’s a complete waste of my time.
Day 2 - Sunday
Well the first day went well and I felt like I excelled in the morning session and it would only take me building the muscle of concentration to master a full day.
Would this be the day of Enlightenment? Where people would stop seeing me as a mere mortal man and start seeing me as the eternal god I know myself to be? Let’s find out.
Once again the morning session went well and all of a sudden things took a turn for the worse. My thoughts in the afternoon came flooding in twice as fast as the day before. I had no strength or willpower to stop them.
So instead I did something else. I paid attention to them carefully and tried to see any patterns.
As an NLP practitioner I am quite familiar with how the mind works. We develop characters or parts, often called archetypes that end up getting developed during times of need. Mostly stemmed from highly stressful events from our past, or simply through repetition.
I started to notice all the characters from my past showing up. Here are the characters I noticed.
- The Needing Validation Person - this character wants to spread his knowledge so he can get validation from other people --- kind of gross!
- The Judger – this character is immediately judging people by their looks and comparing them to myself. It’s either an inferior or superior stance – both of which provide a yucky internal feeling once acknowledged.
- Obsesses over Women & Sexual Intimacy – this character kept having me obsess about the women I've been attracted to in my life and imagining myself in sexual encounters with them. The unhealthy part about it was that it felt obsessive in nature. Now you know what it's like to be inside a man's head! Yes we do this! At least I do.
- The “What are we going to do next” Dude -- This guy cannot stand the present moment. He is always looking for a thrill and when something is boring he is constantly flooding my head with thoughts of what we are going to do next that’s fun and exciting. It’s a feeling of wanting to run out of the room when this dude shows up.
The profound epiphany I had is that the voice in my head is actually these characters or archetypes I created when I was younger. Why was this so important?! For starters, I could give them new roles or jobs to do and that's exactly what I did. It only took me a few minutes to give new roles to these characters.
Even better, when I’m done with my retreat I can work with my Coach Kelsey, who is an NLP Practitioner and we can integrate these parts back into the whole.
Day 3 - Monday
Shastri Loden the day before asks us to remain silent all morning until lunch time. It is becoming more and more challenging to silence the monkey brain.
There is strain in my eyelids. I’m focusing too tightly. I need to loosen up. I’m trying too hard to get it right, but this is my ticket to Enlightenment!! I can’t give up now.
I’m getting all these great insights around my business. Workshops. Marketing. I take a moment during the meditative session to jot down some notes. Otherwise I would have forgotten.
I don’t feel close to Enlightenment. I am starting to get discouraged.
Day 4 – Tuesday
The coronavirus is spreading and the CDC has put restrictions. No more than 50 people are allowed to congregate in the same space. Restaurants and other establishments are not allowed to be open with a few stipulations.
The Shambhala Mountain Center decides to cancel all programs after our retreat until after May. At midnight they are going to lockdown. No one is allowed to come onto the property.
So far there is no evidence of any illness within our group. We are all grateful to be here gaining peace of mind and reaching great states of relaxation.
The morning practice was extremely difficult for me. My neck felt strained so I laid down on my back staring at the ceiling.
My mind was going so fast I decided to say positive affirmations to myself to counteract the chatter in my head. I said over and over, “I love myself.” This worked to slow down my monkey brain. It's also cheating when it comes to the meditation practice we were doing.
I went back to my room after lunch and I felt a deep, profound love for myself. It ran through my entire body. I decided I was going to use that affirmation as a normal part of my daily practice.
I was extremely frustrated in the evening. I realized I wasn't going to be reaching a state of Enlightenment on this retreat. More so I was frustrated because I could see how much my thoughts run my life. I have extreme difficulty being in the present moment. My thoughts are always thinking about the past or future. I felt like I would never get close to quieting my mind. I wanted to give up.
Day 5 - Wednesday
Talk about a struggle!!! I was in a very bad mood in the morning. I started in the seated position and I was grumpy.
I felt uneasy and irritable.
My thoughts were so negative and pessimistic I decided to lay down. I had to close my eyes and do my normal meditation practice. I end up going into a deeper trance where I lose consciousness for a period of time.
Once I wake up from this state I feel much better. The monkey brain has quieted.
Then I made a massive discovery!!! I finally had the awareness to seeing one of the most destructive character or archetypes that shows up in my life on a regular basis.
- The Hopeless Man - this character decides things are hopeless so there is no point in moving forward. It can often lead to a nihilistic feeling of dread. It brings great irritation and upset with my thoughts and feeling state.
Once I reconnect with my coach Kelsey this man who has created all the most challenging ruts in my life will disappear. I get to integrate this grump of a character and won’t have to deal with these thoughts anymore!!
If you only knew how powerful it is to integrate these parts back into the whole. It’s probably the easiest way to have more control over your thoughts. These parts show up and run the show, making us feel chaotic and emotional.
I also discovered a limiting belief (program). “I don’t like to do things I’m not good at.” This limiting belief is what triggers The Hopeless Man to show up.
I often have great resistance doing things I’m not good at, even though I am in the process of learning how to do these things. It’s what has stopped me from generating more of the things I want in my life.
I get to use Time Line Therapy© to rewrite this program so it doesn’t bring that resistance anymore. This is a technique I use with a lot of my clients that is tremendously effective.
Big day for me!!!
Day 6 - Thursday
I have not reached a state of Enlightenment yet. In fact I can barely remain focused. This is the second day of silence and I have no control over my thoughts. I'm laying down on a few mats staring at the ceiling.
The Hopeless Man is getting louder and it's bringing me to a very negative emotional state. I don't like doing things I'm not good at and it's apparent to me I'm not good at silencing my monkey brain.
In the afternoon I'm in such a bad state I tell one of the coordinators that I was going to take a nap in my room. The Hopeless Man takes me out of my normal day to day activities and wants me to isolate.
I went back to my dorm room and watched a movie on Netflix. There is Wifi and I don't recommend doing this on your retreats. It was the only thing I could think of doing to get me out of this unpleasant state of mind and body.
I'm starting to get a closer look at my behaviors due to both limiting beliefs and severed parts from the whole. This kind of awareness is really big because I know how to transform these things. Awareness is so important!!
Day 7 - Friday
Our 2 1/2 days of silence ended at noon. I was surprised how happy I was for the silence to be lifted. I am a person who spends a lot of time by himself and I do know when I spend too much time in my own head it brings me to a dark place. I could see that all unfold during this meditation retreat.
I could see clearly how these characters or archetypes step in and take control over my thoughts and feelings. It's a little disturbing and eye opening. I am grateful I know what to do about them. It's a game changer for sure.
I ended up meeting another amazing person on my retreat. It so happened we met in the lunch line at the cafeteria (reminiscent of grade school). Her name is Misa and she works at the Shambhala Center. I told her how I was supposed to go to Colombia for an ayahuasca retreat. She has an entire history with the plant medicine.
We ended up having lunch together and talking about some pretty amazing experiences on the medicine. I feel like it's going to be a strong connection in the future. Maybe she will be apart of the healing center I'm creating out in the mountains?
Oh and one of the best things!!! Shambhala Mountain Center has a feast after it's longer retreats. Shastri Loden mentioned how important it was to celebrate after an accomplishment. Seven straight days of meditation is certainly an accomplishment. The food was fabulous!
The energy was light and fun throughout the dinner and eventually we ended up sitting around the fireplaces in one of the dorms to finish off the retreat. Each of us shared one thing we are leaving behind and one thing we are taking from the retreat.
Here is what I left behind: the feeling of always wanting to be some place else.
Here is what I am taking forward: I'm going to practice the art of being present and I'm no longer going to allow my mind have all this control over me.
After all I am the Mind Guy!!
I am sorry to say that I did not reach Enlightenment in my week long meditation retreat. Not only that I finally was able to see how out of control my thoughts are.
I'm not the only one. We are all living in this space of incessant chatter. I was discouraged to grasp the magnitude of what I was dealing with.
It allowed me to discover the patterns, beliefs, and characters that were in control of my thought processes. I am a strong believer that once we integrate these characters back into the whole they no longer take us out of the normal flow of life. I also believe when we reprogram our beliefs it brings us one step closer to Enlightenment.
I'd like to share what I believe Enlightenment is, especially since I experienced it in an ayahuasca ceremony last year. Enlightenment is freedom from the egoic mind. The programs and characters we develop from the past are merely there to help us survive. The ego is what causes separation. In a state of enlightenment you don't have to think -- the words just come effortlessly. It's a liberation and freedom from the mind.
Enlightenment is a connection to oneness. A connection to source. Once the mind is out of the picture we are free to have source act through us and we become the gods we are meant to become. We are all gods and we are all one in the same. If the world really understood that from a non-egoic perspective then I'm certain this world would be a much better place.
I made some great connections, learned some great things, was pampered and treated well by the Shambhala Mountain Center staff and coordinators. The experience was remarkable. You should definitely go to this hidden gem, tucked away in the mountains of Colorado. The people, the land, the food, the accommodations and the programs are great!!
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