I could finally participate in a Jewish mindfulness retreat for the first time last week. Since I've been practicing mindfulness, mainly in the form of daily meditation, for more than two years, I didn't expect a big surprise from the two types of mindfulness practices we did during this two-day retreat - repetitions of a 40-minute-long sitting meditation practice and a 20-minute-long walking practice - though I couldn't have practiced so intensively from morning until evening alone.
My greatest expectation from this retreat was to share time and space with like-minded people. In addition to the teacher whose eight-session course I had already taken twice in the past and myself, four other frum Jewish men participated in this retreat. I was surprised when we were asked at the beginning of the retreat to commit to social silence for two days until its end. In spite of my initial worries, this has turned out to be a most precious opportunity for me to reexamine my automatic "translation" of thought to speech in my daily life. Every time some thought came to my mind and I felt like "translating" it into speech, I asked myself whether this "translation" was really worthwhile if I hadn't committed to this social silence. To my surprise, I found more than 90% of my thoughts not worth being "translated" into speech, which means that I was simply "contaminating" the air with unnecessary and sometimes even harmful spoken words until then.
This realization has inevitably lead me to think about the use of social media. In this "remarriage" of mine with Facebook I tried to be very careful to use it mindfully. I might have been more successful in its active use than its consupmtion. Having realized that I had wasted too much time checking posts in Facebook as well as online news, I've decided to check them only three times after the three meals on weekdays. I extended my online information diet until after the end of Sabbath to maximize the benefit of this social silence. When I broke the fast and cheched Facebook as well as my favorite online news websites, they looked far less appealing to me. This reminds me somehow of the feeling I had when I stopped drinking completely a little more than a year ago.
Before this retreat I used to think a lot about our mind (with language as its main tool) and the prison made by it where many of us are trapped (and some aren't even aware of this). This retreat has sharpened my mindfulness and made me realize the severity of the mind-made prison. Upon breaking my social silence I noticed the trap of mental tagging among many of the people I resumed communicating with. They can't simply perceive people and things as they are in the present moment without categorizing them first with their mind, thus limiting themselves. And unfortunately, none of them seems to be aware that they are actually nothing but prisoners of their own mind.
This mental tagging isn't restricted to others. Many people are also trapped in mental self-tagging, especially in the form of this-worldly identities made by their egoic mind, and seem totally identified with these egoic illusions.
My intensified mindfulness after experiencing this retreat has also made me realize the very limitations of mindfulness itself. I'm more aware now that mindfulness as the use of our mind to be aware of our own thoughts, feelings and sensentions non-judgementally in the present moment still remains at the level of the mind. It should be a stepping stone to reach something that transcends our rational mind and is our essense - consciousness also known as the soul. So mindfulness isn't an end in itself but a way to facilinate transition to what Stephan Bodian calls "awakened awareness" in his new book Beyond Mindfulness.
During this retreat we were asked to define who we are. The other participants were so sure of their conventional identities. I refused to answer this question by using such egoic illusions as they are fragmented pieces of an inseparable whole being. I'm more convinced now that each one of us is a divine being, and our ego and the illusions it makes are like clounds covering the sun, but even when it's convered by clouds, the sun never stops shining. All we have to do is to recall that each of us is such a sun.