Returning to stillness; reflections on a self-retreat

I forgot how to slow down.
I forgot how to be in touch with my emotions.
I forgot how to stop and pay attention to the beauty all around me.

This weekend I did a solo-meditation retreat at home. It was aided by a few things: dharma talk recordings from my teachers, a quiet space at home, and some magic truffles (a legal form of psilocybin here in the Netherlands).

(For an exploration about whether psychedelics go against the ethical precepts of Buddhism, see my recent article here.)

I sometimes use a self-retreat like this to shine a light on what might be out of alignment in my life and to spend some time reflecting on what’s truly important to me. I find it far too easy to slip back into bad habits and unwanted behaviors if I don’t take time on a regular basis to slow down and reflect.

For the most part, going on a silent vipassana retreat (without any mind-altering substances) is my usual way of getting that stillness and time for reflection and re-alignment, but since the lockdown, I haven’t been able to find a way to go on retreat. So I decided a little mushroom trip might do the trick.

And besides, there is something special and uniquely revealing about a mushroom-infused meditation retreat that helps shine that light of awareness, that helps untangle certain deeply rooted knots in the mind. What you can uncover on a 10-day vipassana can also be uncovered over the course of a 4-hour trip. I think the stillness and presence you cultivate on retreat is longer lasting, but the insights can be just as deep (maybe even deeper) with mushrooms.

Of course, any mushroom experience needs care, and it isn’t for everyone (in fact, it’s probably NOT for most people). But if done correctly, with the right intention and setting and guidance, I find can be incredibly revealing and healing.

What did I learn on my recent experience? Again and again, the message that came to me on this little solo retreat was how beautiful life can be when you just stop all the running around, all the busy-ness, and simply pay attention to the world around you and the world within you.

Just to sit under a tree, or to watch the birds fly over head. To listen to a song and enjoy the music without being on the way to something else. To feel the wind and sun on your face.

These experiences can be so joyful, almost euphoric, when mindful attention is there. Of course, being on shrooms helps with the euphoria, but I’ve experienced that even on a regular retreat without any substances, so I don’t think it’s entirely because of the psilocybin.

On this retreat I was reminded of this precious gift of life that I have, and how fortunate I am to simply be alive and awake. It was a beautiful experience of remembering, slowing down, and appreciating.

And it was also marked by sadness, longing, and heartache. I was reminded of how much I overcomplicate my life and waste my energy on unimportant things. I saw with great remorse how much pain and suffering I cause myself with my own actions and decisions.

One particular facet of my life kept coming up. The retreat helped me see that, as much as I wish it wasn’t true, social media is taking away more from my life than it is giving. While I can recognize and appreciate some of the joys social media brings me (like staying connected with friends from around the world, sharing inspiring quotes, and posting fun rock-climbing videos), it also takes a heavy toll on me mentally and emotionally.

It’s as deep an addiction for me as any substance. I spend so much time and energy thinking about it. Whether it’s thinking about checking the notifications on my phone. Or thinking about what to post next. Or wondering what other people think about what I’ve already posted.

Every post feeds my craving for external validation and approval. And yet, that validation is perpetually on unstable ground, so it feels I need to stabilize it again and again and again. It needs constant support and scaffolding to hold it up.

I have lost so much of my time on social media. Time that was once spent on things that brought me deeper meaning and joy. Like reading and writing and meditating and playing. Like sitting under the trees and watching animals scurry through the branches. Like listening to music and truly being present for it. Like just sitting with friends without pulling out my phone to check what’s new online.

Even if I do make time for these things in my life, the quality of my presence during these activities is not what it used to be. I’m scattered, disconnected. It’s like I’m living half in the moment, and half in the space of my online presence and what to do about the future. It feels like I am always living a few (or a few hundred) steps ahead of myself.

I have also seen that social media is a huge driver of FOMO for me. I find myself wanting what others have (or seem to have on social media), or feeling like I’m missing out on something that I could be experiencing. And while I know on a conceptual level that nobody’s life is as it seems on social media, I am still susceptible to the influences of craving what I don’t have.

Rather than being a support of my deepest goals and aspirations, social media has become primarily a distraction, and a hindrance.

And so, I feel it’s time for me to take a break once again from social media, at least for a while. I don’t know for how long, and I haven’t yet fully decided which platforms to disengage with. But I know how beautiful my life is when I live more in the present and without thoughts of how others are perceiving me. I know how much energy I waste when I get sucked into the pull of social media.

I long for stillness again.

I long for a life of reflection and awe.

I long to love what is.

I long for more connection with the universe, and with other people.

I long for real contentment and joy.

More than anything, this retreat helped me see how much I miss having a deep intimacy with myself. I miss breathing deeply, feeling deeply, and just flowing with life without thinking about “how will I post this” or some other version of that thought.

There’s so much else to say. Perhaps I will use this space to write more. That is one of the things I hope to do with the time I free up by disconnecting from social media.

Life can be so uncomplicated and peaceful if we let it. Or it can be a shit-storm.

I’m ready to choose the peaceful life. A life of presence and stillness and deeper connection.

Mindfulness Teacher | Performance Life Coach | Creator of the Unhooked recovery program. Learn more at www.jeremylipkowitz.com