I recently returned from a weekend of silence. I thought I had signed up for a meditation retreat at The Christine Center, located deep in the woods of central Wisconsin, but I apparently had not read the fine print close enough. I discovered at the Friday opening session that this was to be a silent experience. Silent as in no phone, no computer, no conversation with anyone there or at home until Sunday at noon. Whaaat?? How did I miss this detail?!
As it happened, I was the first one asked by the facilitator to introduce myself and share why I had come to this retreat. Stumbling over my words, (because I was thinking that I wasn't sure I wanted to be to be there!), I said that I was looking to take a break from my daily responsibilities, to have an opportunity to wander the serene trails in the woods, and have nothing to do for a whole weekend but to take care of myself. After I finished my introduction, it dawned on me that sinking into silence could possibly help me with all of those goals.
And it did, but in ways that I didn't expect. Diving into silence was at first unnerving, because the person I was with is a person that I am not used to being in such close contact with for so long. Me. I spend maybe 15-30 minutes silently with myself most mornings doing a devotion, journaling, or praying, not several days at a time! Most of my life's responsibilities are focused on listening to others. I learned at this retreat that I need to do more listening to myself.
Meditating silently with 30 other people felt surprisingly nourishing. We collectively sat, breathing, being still (well, sometimes adjusting legs when they fell asleep). I was surprised by the closeness that was developed in silence with other retreatants. Together we learned to resist getting caught up in the cacophony of thoughts that bombarded us when we were quiet. I could feel the energy of our group trying to let go of our thoughts. It helped me that we were together in this very hard hard thing: resisting the habit of getting entangled in thoughts that can sabotage our mood and define our worth.
We are not our thoughts. Meditation teaches us to pull back from our thoughts, take a break from them, set them aside, and non-judgmentally move away from them as we sit in silence. Not necessarily stop our thoughts (we all know how hard that can be, right?!) but let ourselves just be a bit separate from them. A feeling of being lighter settled upon me as I entered a freer, more spacious space in my mind.
Off the meditation cushion and in the woods surrounded by trees, I enjoyed another form of meditation: walking meditation. Walking not for exercise, but to simply move with a slowness of step. In sync with the trees companionably silent, steady and patient. I put one foot in front of the other, breathing in and out, over and over, and found some clarity rising up.
At the end of the weekend, I was grateful for the experience of being immersed in silence. Silence---hours of peaceful silence--can be a healing experience because there you are with no expectations to DO anything but only BE. No distractions from the outside world to divide you from you. This large silent pause helped me to reconnect with myself, my pared down self, just as I was at that moment, no need to be any different than as you are. Feeling my shyer self coming to the surface. Walking, some yoga, more meditating, pierced through layers of myself typically covered over by busyness, tasks, lists, plans, goals.
I discovered a simpler, clearer self. A more peaceful, slower self.
Who might you meet after 48 hours of silence?