I did the unthinkable (for me). I woke up at 6:45 a.m. for a 7 a.m. hike. It was majestic. (Photo: Chlou00e9 Morrison)

I knew that I would get something worthwhile out of my recent mindfulness retreat-even if it turned out to be a personal anxiety fiasco. 

I also knew that it was my ego and fear telling me that disaster would surely ensue if I took a risk and went to stay with a group of strangers for a weekend. My mindfulness and meditation practices helped me recognize that I didn’t have to listen to the negative thoughts in my head. 

If you missed my last column, you can read more background here, but the gist is that my mindfulness/meditation practices led me to a weekend retreat.  

I wrote that this was my initial reaction to the invite:

“That sounds sort of nice, but oh my god-strangers! The unknown! Everything is awkward! Discomfort is death! Withdraw to adult pillow fort! I am not going to this retreat!”

To my relief, none of my fears came to fruition, and I didn’t have to resort to a pillow fort-although of course there were a few uncomfortable moments for me, which is just a byproduct of being in a new, different situation with people I don’t know.  

Here’s a quick recap of how things went. We arrived on Friday night, ate dinner, chatted and went to bed. I turned in first after feeling overwhelmed. Several of the people there already knew each other, and I felt like a bit of an outsider initially. 

But I think everyone else was also trying to get their bearings that night. 

On Saturday morning, some of us rose at 7 a.m. and walked to see the sunrise. Then breakfast. Then at least a couple of hours of mindfulness/meditation practice. Lunch. Yoga. Optional hike. Mindful dinner. Games. 

Sunday morning started with breakfast. More practice. We packed up and went home. 

The morning walk with Yong Oh and four retreat participants set the perfect tone for the rest of the weekend. It replaced the fear from the previous night with hope and contentment.

So what if I felt like an outsider? I noted the feelings and then focused on the moment.

I was there to experience this sunrise, to appreciate the sound of birds and trickling water, to feel wonder as I walked in silence with relative strangers all on similar missions. 

The morning walk was an experience I hope I never forget. Part of my marvel came because I’m not a morning person. I couldn’t remember the last time I took time to soak up a sunrise. But being mindful during the walk made it especially meaningful. 

There’s so much more I could say about this, but I narrowed down my biggest takeaways to two things. So here they are. 

Self-compassion 
This concept is not new to me. It’s frequently mentioned during meditation/mindfulness practice.

We’re encouraged to gently bring ourselves back to focus when we lose our way.

But author and journalist Dan Harris, who wrote a book called “10% Happier,” has expressed trouble reconciling how to be kind to ourselves and be successful. 

Often, traditional success takes grit and strength. And we’re expected to be tough on ourselves, to push toward success. 

So for too long, practicing self-compassion felt like giving myself an undeserved break. Instead of pushing myself to be the best, I was just going to coddle myself all the time.

But one of the leaders on our retreat explained self-compassion in such a clear, succinct way that I almost couldn’t believe I didn’t get it before. 

Her suggestion: Talk to yourself like you would talk to your most beloved friend.

For example, if my best friend or sister had a goal of running daily but they were wanting to be lazy, I would never say, “Listen here, you lazy harlot, you are pathetic if you don’t go run. Get off your butt and do what you’re supposed to do or you are nothing.”

I’d never say that to anyone else. But I might think that about myself. And that’s a problem. 

To my best friend, I’d be kind. I’d be mindful about how my words would sound or how they would make her feel. I’d be encouraging, not discouraging. But I’d also be honest.

I might say, “You know you’ll feel better if you go on your run. You know you need to make yourself do this, so let’s do it. Make it fun. Don’t think. Just act.” 

I might say an array of different things, but none would be hateful, and the realization that I talked to myself that way and thus wasn’t practicing self-compassion was important. 

I don’t have to forgo discipline to be good to myself. 

Mindful eating 
This one was a big one for me.

My dysfunctional relationship with food started when I was in high school, at a weight and athletic standing that I would stab a pencil in my own ear to have now. 

Today, I struggle to lose weight and maintain healthy habits, like many people. And almost everyone can benefit from mindful eating. 

Most people have at least occasionally eaten without thinking-mindlessly shoveling in something that didn’t even taste that great. 

We eat in front of the television; we eat at our desks. 

During our mindfulness dinner, we were tasked with sitting in silence and focusing on everything from temperature and taste to smell and sensory perception. We ate slowly, putting our fork down in between bites. It surprised me how unnatural that felt. And how revealing that was. 

Several of us realized we were fuller after eating less than expected. 

Since the retreat, I’ve mostly caught myself halfway through a meal and realized, “Crap. I’m just shoveling it in again.” 

But that’s a start.

It’s better than where I was before.

It’s all another step in my journey, my beautiful journey into mindfulness.

The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.