In Anticipation of a Seven Day Silent Retreat
Seven days of silence. That is what I’ve signed up for. I have no idea what to expect. I’ve tried to prepare myself by scouring the internet in search of first hand accounts from “survivors”. I found two frequent comments: “it’s hard” and “I’d do it again”. Hmmmm. Makes me think of childbirth – that was hard. And after the first time, I did it again, and again. But after the labor and delivery, you get a baby to take home. I’m not sure what you bring home from a seven day silent meditation retreat. I guess that’s one of the reasons I am going; my desire to experience why people choose this challenge.
I think it will be hard. I don’t know if I will do it again.
In anticipation, I’ve been thinking. Probably good to get “thinking” out of my system as sitting in silence is not about thinking! Not only will I be silent (no talking) but I’ll be without my cell phone and laptop. No electronics at all. No text messages from my children. No emails from friends. No spying on those I follow on Instagram. No access to my favorite playlist on spotify. I’ll miss an entire week of news! Even in the throes of labor you can indulge in these daily distractions.
I expect it will be hard. Arriving at the grocery store and discovering that I’ve left my cell phone at home leaves me feeling like I’ve lost a limb, or washed up on the shores of a deserted island. Such a feeling of disconnect. Not a significant trauma. More a feeling of insecurity. What if someone is looking for me? What if I need to get in touch with someone? I forgot to check the refrigerator – do we need eggs?
And what about sleepiness?
The schedule has everyone up at 5:00 a.m. and finishishing at 10:00 p.m. I’m looking at seven hours of sleep, at most. I’m more of an 8 or 9 hours of sleep kind of person. What if I doze off during meditations? I can picture myself drooling, my head bobbing, or falling off of my cushion. Good thing I don’t snore. I googled this too. It turns out there are many internet confessions from “survivors” that have fallen asleep. One woman wrote that as soon as the retreat ended she rushed to find the woman she’d sat next to during the bulk of the week. She wanted to apologize for toppling into her sacred space on more than one occasion. Her fellow retreatant extended her hand and said, “I’ve been wanting to thank you for giving me those opportunities to smile in the midst of a challenging week”. That put my mind at ease.
No conversations or communication with friends and family!
That also sounds hard. I’m sure my mind will drift as I wonder what the kids are up to or what’s going on in the world that has everyone talking.
And there’s another detail about this retreat that adds an unknown element. My husband is going too and we won’t be able to communicate. Each of us will have our own single rooms and we won’t have any idea how the other is doing. It’s even possible that one of us decides to drop out and the other won’t know they are finishing up alone!
Are you surprised that my husband is going? A part of me is too. So I asked him some questions. Here’s what he said.
Why are you going?
Initially I thought it would be time to reflect on my life and to think about, and potentially resolve, problems. But after hearing that it’s more about learning to let go of the habit of thinking, I see a different opportunity.
What is that?
The opportunity for self growth. I see personal growth as a journey. You go on a retreat if you’re on a path to discover mindfulness and you know this is one of the steps to speed up the process. I am hoping to accelerate my understanding of what mindfulness and meditation have to offer; how they can enhance your life.
Is there anything you are nervous about?
Nothing really. Maybe just some physical discomfort from sitting so much. Oh, and missing out on a few sporting events! I’m not someone who worries too much.
Any ideas what might be challenging for you?
Maybe getting bored. Bored with myself.
Anything you are looking forward to?
I think it will be good to escape the “rat race” and slow things down. Simplify life for a week.
Taking a break from the news, the pressures of work, everything to do with electronics. It will be a challenge. I wonder if you can be content with rest and relaxation alone? Without entertainment. I think it might be like camping as campers take a break by spending time in nature.
I think of David Thoreau and his time alone in nature. I wouldn’t want to miss an opportunity to experience a better way of living. I wouldn’t want to miss out because of fear.
My closing thoughts.
I was impressed with my husband’s answers. He hasn’t studied mindfulness and mediation like I have. He’s only done a one day silent retreat with me and that was over two years ago. But he’s packing up his running pants and getting ready to turn over his cell phone.
I have more knowledge about mindfulness and mediation. I first learned about mindfulness in 2005 and have continued to practice, learn, and seek trainings ever since. But I have never sat for seven days in silence. And I know that the focus of meditation is not on our thoughts. People meditate to practice being present despite the steady flow of unsolicited thoughts. It is the opportunity to connect with what lies behind, or underneath, or in between, the frenzy of mental noise. At least this is what I think as I prepare for the retreat.
And I think it will be hard. To sit and struggle with whatever surfaces. To notice and let go, over and over.
We are off tomorrow at noon. I’ll be back next week with a follow-up report. Who knows, maybe I’ll be willing to say that I’d do it again!