Notes from a Silent Retreat

Courtesy Spirit Rock Meditation Center

Courtesy Spirit Rock Meditation Center

Last week I had the immense good fortune to spend seven days in silence at Spirit Rock Meditation Center. This experience was made possible for me by an artist fellowship from the Hemera Foundation, to whom I am deeply grateful. Now that I have returned to everyday life, I'm reminded of how experiences like this can so powerfully shift our perspective, allowing us to look at ourselves and our lives as if from the outside, and how that perspective can radically alter our choices once we return to the regular flow.

This gift of perspective shift is one reason I choose to host retreats for others, although my retreats are of a different nature. Still, I am inspired to share a few shifts in myself this week that I've found especially noteworthy.

1. Focus - The retreat I attended included rigorous, if gentle, meditation training in the tradition of Theravada Buddhism. The techniques are simple and possibly familiar to many of you, such as focusing on breath and focusing on sound, but also focusing on the physical tasks of eating, walking, cooking, and cleaning. The majority of our waking hours were structured in this way, and when I returned home, I found I had developed a kind of allergy to advertising, email, and social media, things, of course, that have been engineered to manipulate our attention. Instead, I felt a kind of subtle craving for the task-based focus I felt while on retreat. As I set firmer boundaries with myself to screen out distraction, I feel relief and contentment in retaining some degree of that focus.

2. Acceptance - A large part of our practice through various mindful activities was to observe sensations, thoughts, and feelings arise and fade within us. We were instructed to allow this arising and fading, and to accept all that arises and all that fades without judgement, both within our own bodies and minds, and also externally in the world. This is a very tall order, but one that I'm coming to see as a necessary part of change. As tragic as this time in history may seem, if I can't accept world events and see them as they are, I can't really be part of transforming them. There are many ways to contribute to change. At this moment, I'm feeling that I need to do the inner work of clarifying how generosity and compassion live within me, so that I can begin to articulate them and act from them outwardly. This may take some time, but I'm beginning to wonder if the long view might be a more realistic perspective to hold.

3. Care - Related to acceptance, but distinct from it, is the idea of caring for the self as well as for the earth and its other inhabitants. I have studied self-care for some time, but with the silence of this retreat experience lingering in my system, I'm asking myself to be more proactive. Making larger choices about my home, work, and leisure environments and activities makes caring for myself simpler and more efficient. Eating and sleeping on a regular schedule, for example, is a kind of macro-caring that ensures I will have optimal energy and require fewer breaks and snacks. Replacing some of my general media exposure with deliberate reading and viewing selections makes my mind clearer and calmer.

Needless to say, if you feel called to silence, I highly recommend the experience of a meditation retreat. There are many centers around the country offering this kind of experience. If you are curious about one of my own retreats that combine creative practices, yoga, meditation, and nature, I invite you to explore them below:

Skull Valley: 3-day Women's Tango Retreat in Northern Arizona
Aloha Girls: 7-day Women's Tango Retreat in Hawaii
CREATE: 3-day Retreat for your Inner Artist

Have you ever been on a retreat of any kind? What insights did you take back with you?