Posts Tagged retreat

Silence and Solitude

I have been on the fence over the last few days as to whether or not to write a piece about my experience from last week.  After much back and forth, I think it is important to share my experience, even if it’s for my own benefit as a way to document my first silent retreat.  My hope is that maybe it will inspire others to go on retreat someday.

Having built a strong foundation of a daily meditation practice and after the encouragement of a dear friend and feeling like I was ready, I set forth for my first seven-day silent retreat.  “No tv’s? Could you do puzzles or board games like cribbage?”  These were a few questions asked by my friend when talking about my time away last week.  My reply, “Nope. Complete silence.”

The act of Noble Silence…not just limiting, but disconnecting from speech, reading, writing, anything with an on/off button.  Seven days of sitting and walking meditation from 5:45am-10pm every day.  My hope for this retreat was to deepen my meditation practice.  It has done so much more than that.

In one sense, it’s difficult to really explain what I mean by that.  For those of you who have seen the movie “City Slickers” with Billy Crystal, it’s like him finding that one thing that changes his life/makes him happy.  An intangible for most and it’s going to be different for each person.

In another sense, I have already seen how this experience has changed my life.  Here are just a few:

  • learning to create space between stimulus and reaction/response
  • having a strong anchor to help come back to center
  • the importance of metta for myself

When I first arrived at the retreat center, it was like being back home where there are rolling hills, farm land and forests.  Being in an environment like this always brings a sense of peace to me.  Because I arrived before registration began, I was shown my room and invited to take a walk through the woods.  There were several well-marked trails to choose from.

At 3pm I looked at one last picture on my cell phone and turned it off until silence was broken seven days later.  During the registration process I was assigned my yogi job, breakfast put-away.  This meant each morning after breakfast I put away all food leftover and helped clean the dining hall.  I also signed up to be a bell-ringer.  I was to ring the bell around campus before our last sit each night.

During the opening remarks, the teachers explained the schedule for the week, what emotions may arise, the five precepts, and talked about the importance of Noble Silence.  The idea of silence throughout the whole week was so we could dig deep within ourselves to notice.  Notice thoughts, mindfulness, awareness, hindrances, attachments.

Each day brought on a whole range of experiences from how my physical body felt to thoughts that would float in and out, and emotions that would stir and then bubble and come to a full on boil.

One of the most vivid memories I have from last week was on May 7th.  This was an emotional day to begin with because it was the anniversary of my grandmother’s death.  Around 8:20pm, I stepped outside to watch the sun set.  A few other were out there and then more and more gathered.  It was the most beautiful red and orange combination with slivers of low-lying clouds.  I was perched on the stone wall and watched the sun set through the silhouette of tree branches.  As I sat there, I kept imagining what the sunset looked like in Portsmouth, Iowa with the cemetery overlooking the rolling hills.  If it were the same as I had, Grandma would surely be smiling down on us.  When I went back into the meditation hall for our last sit of the evening, that was the most serene 45 minutes I had all week.

Each day we had a metta practice; loving, kindness and compassion.  And everyday was geared toward different people in our lives; a loved one, a neutral person, a difficult person, the world as a whole, and one day for ourself.  Showing others how much they mean to me is very important, whether it’s a hug, a text message or just a friendly thought I put out to them.  When we had to show metta toward ourselves, this was much more difficult.  And that was a big take-away for me, learning to show more compassion to myself.  The teachers offered mantras or phrases to put out for each of these people as suggestions.  Most of them worked but I definitely found a few others that resonate more so with me.

By the time Sunday morning came around and we were ready to break silence, I felt so at peace.  I’m not sure what I was expecting by attending the retreat, but I certainly received what I needed.  “That one thing is what you need to figure out.”

When asked if I’d go back, yes, most certainly I will be back.

be well-

 

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