Written by Isabel O’Connell, the Bates Student October 2022
When I went to commons right before closing on Friday night with Abbey Ende ‘23, Barry Kilmister ‘24 and Whitney Miller ‘26, Abbey turned to us and asked, “How are you guys going to explain what we just experienced?” I didn’t have an answer at the time, but I’m going to try now.
I spent three days in the woods with the Buddhist nun Tenzin Dasel ‘88. I’d mentioned this plan the week before I left campus to friends, who frowned in concern about the parallels between this concept and many horror movie premises. I drove my own car to Shortridge for the dual reasons of helping Barry bring our food and being able to leave if it was terrible. But it was not terrible. Honestly, this trip may have changed my life.
I had never meditated in my life. I’d always been the sort of person who did things very quickly or not at all, and who had a medically concerning high resting heart rate. But when I was having dinner with Maggie McCulloch ‘23, Joel Hallkaj ‘24 and Barry, I mentioned that I didn’t know what to do for break, and Maggie said, “just come on the meditation retreat with us.” I decided at the very least it would make for an interesting story.
I had no idea what I was in for. While I drove Bora Legunda ‘25, she read the itinerary out to me. My initial concern was over the 6:15 a.m. wake up to go to the beach to watch the sunrise. I’ve never been a morning person, but as it turns out, a nun standing in your doorway in the early morning really will get you out of bed.
We weren’t allowed to have our phones, so we spent our free time reading and talking and cooking. I woke up the last morning to laughter and I came downstairs to everyone sitting around in the living room. We all got so close so immediately, which weirdly reminded me of the Netflix reality TV show Too Hot To Handle, in which the cast gets so close so quickly. I remember thinking that seemed scripted but now I understand how quickly people can be pushed together in an isolated environment like that.
When Tenzin told us we were supposed to have a silent day, where we communicate only with our eyes and hand gestures, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had come on this trip to hang out with my friends, so I wasn’t super thrilled about not being able to talk for a third of it. But I weirdly loved it.
Anyone will tell you, I talk a lot. I spent my whole childhood monologuing; my little brother was rumored to not have spoken a word for the first few years of his life because he just couldn’t get a word in. But I found I was able to communicate just as much, if not more, without words. We held hands and smiled and were able to somehow have full conversations with our eyes. It felt as though we were living in a peaceful silent film.
Barry and I found pieces of wood shaped like rocks and skipped them in the ocean. Joel and Maggie and I watched the stars and I had never seen a sky that open. I wrote twelve pages in my journal in the sand. I thought about how much we speak just to fill the silence. Things would come up throughout the day that I felt like I needed to communicate, until I sat and thought and realized that so many of the things we say aren’t as pressing as we think they are. I kept thinking about how much love can be communicated with physical touch and facial expressions, and how the concepts that can only be communicated with words tend to only complicate things.
Don’t get me wrong, I will not be becoming a Buddhist nun. Tenzin, too, said she never thought she’d end up as a nun when she was at Bates (she literally played lacrosse with my mom at Bates!). But I have been meditating every day since I’ve been back on campus, and I feel like I don’t need to handle everything all at once in the same way I used to. Not everything is as pressing as we think it is, and I’ve been trying to take more time for myself. I visited my neighbor/friend Amelia Killackey ‘25 last night and she observed, “Your voice even sounds calmer.”
Everyone should come out to meditation club. Meditating works. I hate that my dad who’s been telling me to meditate for years was right about that.