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Sunday, July 9, 2017

Sit. Walk. Don't Talk: How I Survived a Silent Meditation Retreat (recommended book)

Day 1: “I just want to jump up and run the hell out of here.  I have no idea how I’m going to make it through the week.”

Day 6: “I knew all the happiness I was feeling wasn’t going to last.  This is all such a load of bullshit!... I can’t believe I have three more effing days of this.”

Day 9: “Tears of gratitude, joy, and relief rolling down my cheeks.  I did it.  I made it through.”

In Sit. Walk. Don't Talk, mindfulness facilitator Jennifer Howd takes us inside her mind during her first 9-day Vipassana (Insight) meditation retreat.  

Sharing her journal entries, notes to and from teachers, and interactions with fellow retreatants, Howd gives a no-holds-barred account of her ups and downs throughout the week.

  • We see her pain, both physical (cramps and a throat infection) and emotional (memories of her mother’s death and an abusive ex-girlfriend).  
  • We watch her judgments gradually shift to compassion:  One day she's annoyed that the person sitting next to her in the meditation hall won't stop fidgeting.  The next day, she realizes that she must be distracting the people around her because she can't stop coughing and sniffling. 
  • We identify (at least, I certainly do!) with how meditating helps her notice that her mind is filled with "an incessant stream of inner banter.  Some of it helpful, most of it not."
    • "Not one particular inner voice per se, my Shit is, essentially, a buildup of emotional debris, the byproduct of previously wounded, unhealed parts of myself... catastrophizing... whining... and/or criticizing myself and others."

Her detailed, insightful account of her own experience helps dispel some of the popular misconceptions about meditation and gives potential retreatants a realistic sense of what to expect.

As Howd explains, 
“Silent meditation retreats are not relaxing ‘vacations.’  They’re intentionally created containers for coming face-to-face with yourself.  And because of this, they can often be life-changing—and quite challenging—experiences.  Attending a silent meditation retreat is kind of like attending a boot camp for your soul.  It’s rigorous.  It’s demanding.  It’s (sometimes) painful.  But it’s worth it… if I can survive a silent meditation retreat—so can you.”

Jennifer Howd teaches in Los Angeles.  (Details at  This week, she's giving readings on the east coast. If you're in New York City, you can see her tomorrow (July 10th) and Tuesday (July 11th); if you're in Boston, you can see her on Thursday (July 13th).  Details at

If you're elsewhere in the world, be sure to check back here on Sunday July 23rd for Ms. Howd's "Do-It-Yourself Mini-Retreat for Counselors and Teachers." 

reviewed by Catharine Hannay


related posts:

Benefits of Mindfulness

Mindfulness as a Way of Life (interview with Jennifer Howd)

Mindfulness Activities and Teaching Resources