What Silence Taught Me: An Interview with Lida Tohidi


We sat down with WITHIN teacher Lida Tohidi to find out how meditation retreats have changed her life, and get her thoughts on how (and why) to practice mindfulness. Here’s what she shared with us.

How did you get started with meditation?

I started meditating 11 years ago. I had moved to Japan right after graduating from university to teach English. I began meditating in the Zen tradition, and have since tried different meditation practices ranging from qi gong to visualization meditation to kundalini. I've focused on mindfulness meditation for the last 6 years.

What led you to begin teaching meditation?

I started to guide meditation classes at WITHIN last year. I had started giving talks and workshops for a couple of years, so when the opportunity rose to teach at WITHIN Meditation, I knew it was the right time. I've had a great time so far.

Going on meditation retreats is often described as a key part of deepening practice. What have you experienced on retreat?

I started my first 10-day silent meditation retreat 6 years ago, less than one week after I heard about the opportunity. I chose to participate in the retreat at a Vipassana center in Montebello, Quebec half-way between Montreal and Ottawa, Canada in the Vipassana, or insight, tradition.

Vipassana means "to see things as they really are". It is a logical process of mental purification through self-observation. Although springing from the teachings of the Buddha, this non-sectarian technique is open to everyone regardless of background or belief.

This 10-day silent meditation retreat (during which all participants meditated for 10+ hours/day) is one of the most challenging things that I have done in my life.

I continue to meditate daily (though not for as long as Vipassana prescribes, which is 1 hour in the morning and 1 hour in the evening). Despite its inherent challenges, sitting at retreats have also been some of the most rewarding experiences of my life. 

An experience like this is an intense one, because the participants are immersed in silence, which can be both peaceful and frightening, as you are 'stuck' with your own mind for 10 days, and nothing else.

Though you may speak to the teacher should you have any questions, there are no other distractions during the 10 days, which means no use of electronics, no reading or writing or drawing, but (thankfully) no chores either. The meals are prepared for you by volunteers, and you make a charitable donation within your means for the retreat experience. 

Despite these challenges, you’ve gone on long retreats many times. What has sitting all those silent retreats taught you?

My experience with retreats has taught me many principles, including feeling more comfortable with oneself, how to be more at peace, and eventually to consistently think and venture 'outside of the box' once the retreat is over and everyone is back to the real world.

Just as working on my physical body in the past has deepened my theoretical understanding of concepts, I have aimed to participate in my daily activities in an enriching and positive way by keeping up my daily meditation practice. 

I have been able to move beyond my previous frame of reference, and my world has become less one-sided, and fuller.

I believe that the meditation retreat experience, though difficult, is certainly worth it. I hope that my future experiences will give me the opportunity to continue to put my 'mental training' into practice, to see the world from others' viewpoints, and to consistently participate in this exchange. 

I have since realized that the truly fascinating elements of human nature are not in our differences, but in the connections and similarities. I have taken every relevant opportunity I can to experience others first-hand and find the common thread between us.

I’ve realized that people are not so different – we just have different ways of interpreting those fundamental values of human experience: beauty, truth, and peace.

What advice would you give to someone who’s just getting started with meditation?

Be easy on yourself. As with any habit, it takes some time to establish a meditation practice. Furthermore, we spend almost all of our waking lives focusing on our external reality, and it may be difficult when you meditate and focus on your internal reality.

What’s your favorite way to incorporate mindfulness into your day?

My fave way to incorporate meditation into my day is through mindful eating. Hannah Knapp, the founder of  WITHIN Meditation, led a great workshop on this last year, and I have definitely started to implement those practices. What's not to love about enjoying your meals and doing so mindfully, while you get extra meditation credits?! :)

What do you love about teaching at WITHIN?

I specifically love that there are folks in WITHIN classes of all different backgrounds with meditation, and at various levels of experience. That allows me to modulate the level of guidance and customize each and every single class.

Lida teaches our midday classes on Fridays. She has cumulatively spent months in silence at mindfulness meditation retreats over the last 5+ years.  Join her for a class this week!