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The transformative experience with my first “NIL through mouth” retreat

I spent the last few days of 2021 and the first few days of 2022 on a Buddhist retreat named Nyung-Ne. I am not a Buddhist in anyway. As a yoga teacher I have some strong affinity with eastern philosophies. but can’t say I know much about Buddhism apart from the few books I read in last 20 years from different Buddhist teachers like His Holiness The Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Joan Halifax and a few others… Books I have cherished and learned a lot from. I was attracted to the retreat as I tend to say yes to opportunities when they arise in time I feel I need support.

One of my friend, who is Buddhist, told me a few days before New Years Eve that she was doing a retreat with her centre, and that she is doing it every year. This year it was held online. It is a progression and cultivation of compassion for all human beings (or sentient beings as Buddhists tend to say); a mix of mantra recitations, prostrations, meditations and a couple days of fast — a « NIL to mouth » fast : no talking, no eating, no drinking water, nothing in and out of the mouth. A way to purify body and mind, thoughts, words, actions and connect with all the beings out there that do not have food or water on daily basis.

And I thought that is what I needed, a reset, time to sit with my thoughts, to realign with my true self.

This year has been tough for many. I can’t say I have had as tough of a year in comparison to many : I live in safe and bountiful country, I have kept my various jobs throughout the last 2 years, the state I live in in Australia has had pretty much 0 to a few cases of Covid on average for the past 2 years (it is growing now as we are opening the boarders). However I have been impacted by the global discussions, the worries for family members abroad and missing them dearly, the hard arguments and disagreements between humans, the misunderstandings, the fears, disconnections… I also had spent a lot of my 2021 on developing my coaching business and spent too much time on social medias and computer screens in general. This sounds like a positive thing, and it is in many ways, but a lot of this time spent on screens was actually numbing my uncomfortable feeling of disconnection. So 2021 for me was a challenging one. At the end of the year, I was just exhausted !! I could not stay awake past 8 :30pm by mid-December.

I had lost connection with my highest intention. Therefore lost my energy. So this was an invitation offered at the perfect time.

I signed up. I found myself on a quite challenging Buddhist retreat, I know nothing about it apart from it is composed of 8 sessions over 3 days, including repetition of mantras (by the way, for those who do not know what a mantra is: A mantra is traditionally a short sound, word or even phrase spoken in Sanskrit and used in a repetitive manner for meditation purposes, to focus our intentions and calm our minds.), a LOT of prostrations, a couple days of fast and silence.

My friend gave me the retreat kit, full of little things I had never seen before — all the objects that will be placed on a special altar.

My 5-year old and I actually had quite some fun time putting the complex altar together.

Day 1 First session is at 5am, it goes well despite the lack of sleep (being woken up by my 5 year-old a couple times during the night). I have done some fasts before (never without water though so I am a bit nervous about that part), I have done many prostrations and salutations in my many hours of yoga practices and trainings so my body is holding on very well. I also take it as if it was a new country I visit, I always get so curious and excited about discovery new horizons, so I am open to what is coming up.

The mantras are a bit strange, different and sometimes even a bit funny to me (no offense to all Buddhist practitioners reading this, take it as my complete beginner ignorance). But they are with a palpable good intention.

And the session seems to pass fast and I remain interested and open to anything coming up.

Day 1 Session 2 : I am already tired. I think I fall asleep on the floor during a prostration. It is not even 10am. I am not as curious, open and not as focused as well. I realise this is going to be the same session EVERY time. The same incomprehensible mantras. The same number of prostrations. The same images to visualise. My mind already starts to get bored. Can’t wait for the session to finish and eat my lunch. Last meal of the retreat. I surrender to this mind pattern, honour my easily bored mind, and continue with the session, knowing it will pass.

During the break, I prepare a BIG meal and eat my last meal of the retreat with gratitude AND a little apprehension for the rest of the retreat with no food and water. Though the water part is the part that worries me most. No water ? Really ? Haven’t I learned that people die if they don’t have water ? No food for a few days, I will survive, hungry but i will be ok. But no water blows my mind.

I am lucky that my amazing partner in life, my husband, took the kids camping at that point, so that I can dedicate that time to the retreat fully. In silence. My kids are… well… they are kids… with all the life, fun and noise they can bring!! And I would not change it in any way. Most of the time.

We have a few breaks. During which we are supposed to sit with our thoughts, maybe simply colour a few mandalas. On the first few breaks, my mind goes directly to: “so what do I DO now ?” I feel the urge to go and clean the house, do laundry, water the plants (THEY can drink). Then I remind myself I am supposed to not distract myself. The point is to sit with the thoughts and emotions that arise. So I sit, outside, give myself permission to do nothing. It feels relatively easy actually. I am not usually so good at it, apart during my meditation practices, but this time feels like the right time.

The last (4th) session of day 1 goes OK despite the fatigue. In my tiredness I surrender to the practice, without questioning it. I see the point, the repetitions, just like sun salutation in yoga, the dedication, the humbleness, the rawness, the intention, the energy it creates within. I give myself permission to commit.

The night goes well. I sleep well despite the few wakes up from my bladder as I did drink a lot of water to prepare for tomorrow’s water fasting.

Day 2, wake up at 4 :45, my last glass of water for the retreat… I drink 2 huge glasses. 5am., the session starts. Goes well. I am committed. I see my intentions for why I signed up and commit to cultivate this.

During the first break, my Buddhist friend that invited me to the retreat (well maybe I invited myself) joins me in my home yoga studio, to do the day sessions together. We are still in silence, so we don’t exchange a word but just her presence, knowing and energy make my the next 2 sessions meaningful and I am keeping motivation. I love when we do prostrations together. It fills the room with an energy of dedication and healing.

During the break, we both sleep and do some colouring. In silence.

Her presence also has that mind calming effect where I am able to find pauses, longer gaps between thoughts. A certain clarity is emerging in my mind.

Only the birds singing, the heavy rain and my dog barking from time to time to remind us of what sound sounds like. The rain is by itself healing. I imagine the water running on my body during the sessions and breaks. Cleansing, healing feeling.

I also take my dog on a walk during the break, as he is getting a bit restless. I am a bit apprehensive to meet any neighbours wishing me happy new year and not being able to say it back. I think about writing a little card with “ I am on a silent retreat. So I can’t answer you but from the bottom of my heart I wish you a HAPPY NEW YEAR! May it be filled with good health and compassion.” But I go in the forest next to home, and nobody is there. Most likely people are resting as it is the 1st of January. I realise we crossed 2021… and we are welcoming 2022. I actually can’t think of a better way to start the year than in silence.

In all the sessions, there is a big emphasis on other beings… a cultivation of peace and compassion, wishing all sentients beings to not suffer, to find peace of mind, happiness. It is starting to reset my compass. I start to remember why I am here. In this retreat but also on this earth.

I am here to support people in their journey of healing, with compassion. It is about them, it is about humanity, it is about the planet that would be an even more beautiful place to live in if we all could feel true compassion, joy and happiness for each other and be in awe with the beauty of nature.

I am starting to re-embody this knowing.

The sessions go well. The thirst and hunger are not overwhelming. My body feels pretty good, a bit tired but still good.

First night in my entire life that I don’t drink water before bed… especially after not drinking during the day. Well it goes better than imagine. My body has surrender to the fatigue and is now in pure rest… dreaming vividly, lots of colours and places. The wake up from my alarm clock at 4:45am is welcome. I stand up and to my surprise, I am still OK ! The thirst did not kill me or anything. That is good news ! 

When I start the first session at 5am, sitting on my meditation pillow I feel a bit dizzy and impatient to be able to drink my first glass of water and some herbal tea.

My mind gets really impatient when we start to recite some mantras… a lot of mantras… It is almost 6am and we are still not drinking water… what? I thought it was just 24h of not drinking water… it has been 25h!! I manage to breathe and calm down, realise we are all in it together, remember that this Nyung Ne retreat is a few thousands year old, that thousands of people around the world have been doing it , and it has been helping a lot of people along the way. I remind myself that many people unfortunately live like that in hunger and thirst, not knowing when the next meal or drink will be. I get overwhelmed. Sadness. Humility. Reset. Raw.

The time comes. We bless our drinks and start the process of drinking. Ha! The sweet feeling of water in my mouth, throat then stomach. My whole body is revived. Feels like a flower blooming again. Every cells of my body are thanking the fluid entering, cleansing, healing, hydrating them.

I get renewed energy to finish all the prostrations and dedicate the end of the retreat to all sentients beings.

We get to all share our dedications, and it is overwhelming to hear all this benevolence or “wishing of happiness for all sentients beings” coming from this group of 15+ people joined together to bring compassion to this world.

My first meal after the retreat felt like heaven in a mouth full. I never in my life ate so slowly, savouring each bite, blessing each bite, feeling grateful for each bite. Pure bliss.

So overall the retreat showed me what I still needed to heal, what habitual mind patterns to upgrade, and was a metaphor of life with its hardship, its ups and downs. I reminded me of the importance of softening and opening the heart space to all, independently of their opinions or ways of life. It was transformative. A shift. It was what I needed.

I will share a bit of this blissful state during my yoga classes, coaching session and circles this year. So come along to bath in the nectar of compassion this retreat enabled me to reenergise within myself. All for you my fellow human beings.

My dedication goes as follow.

I am thanking the teacher, the teachers along the way sharing those practices and the practices I have been practicing and teaching as well. Thanking my friend for opening this retreat to me and sending me all and more of all the little things I needed for it…

My heart has remembered what it feels to be open. Pouring with love for all.

Thank you. It feels soft. It feels good. It feels peaceful. Thank you. Thank you. Thank You.

I dedicated this Nyung Ne to all sentients being suffering from physical and mental conditions. May they all find healing and peace in time.

May all beings, especially children, starving, hungry and unsafe find some food to eat and shelter to be safe.

May all beings find compassion and understanding for each other.

May all beings be able to grasp the bigger, truer picture -of what we have lived so far, what we are living right now and what we will experience in the future.

May we find compassion in our hearts to release separation, judgment, resentment, hate between each other.

May all women out there that are suffering from injustice and bad treatments be released and freed from it all, and find joy and peace.

May all the women I have worked with and all the women I will work with find peace, joy and deep meaning in their lives.

And amongst all, I dedicate this Nyung Ne to Mother Earth. May we human, take care of our nest, may we find compassion and wisdom in our hearts to treat it as it deserve and preserve its amazing beauty and diversity.

May we all take the time to be in silence to realign, often.

May all beings, including my friends and family, find some bliss this year.

I dedicate this Nyung Ne to you reading this letter.

May you be at peace, find compassion and joy in this 2022.

With infinite love and gratitude.

Dorothee Marossero Msc, MBA, NLP Master Practitioner, is a transformational coach, creator of Fearlessly Yourself and Dottyoga. She uses Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Yoga, mindfulness, somatic and self-care approaches to bring sustainable and deep transformation to women around the world.


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