Today I’m headed to Perth to undertake another 10 day silent retreat. I don’t know how I feel about it. There is anticipation, trepidation, excitement and doubt, along with numerous other emotions. As my grandmother used to say I feel like I’ve got the whole ‘kit and caboodle’ going on inside of me this morning thinking about 10 long days of sitting, mostly without guidance, completely in silence.
Whenever I tell people what I’m doing, that I’ll be handing over my phone and stopping all contact with the external world I get this shocked look. Almost everyone says “I don’t know how you do it!?! I couldn’t possibly not talk, not read, not write, not listen to music, not smile at people; you are crazy!! ”
I do think I’m crazy, my husband absolutely thinks I’m crazy- but this, this is not crazy. It’s just incredibly bloody difficult. So in case you are interested here is the top five reasons why I do this kind of thing on a regular basis
Fact #1 It’s not easy to sit in silence with your mind, in fact at times it’s down right unpleasant. But isn’t that the case with our minds most of the time anyway? In the case of a retreat it’s like the volume is turned up on high but instead of trying to find 100 different ways to avoid it or make it go away we listen. Incredible things happen when you listen deeply without trying to make something different.
Fact #2 it’s not supposed to be relaxing. I am sure I’m going to have moments of deep calm and quiet, but I will almost certainly have moments where I feel like screaming at the top of my lungs and stabbing a person next to me for breathing too loudly But again isn’t that the case with our lives most of the time anyway? We have moments of good and moments of bad it’s just that in silence and without anything to distract us we get to watch these with a little more curiosity without trying to avoid the unpleasant or desperately cling to the nice stuff. We just watch and listen without trying to make it different.
Fact #3 Not talking and not having a phone is totally the easy part! Believe me, when everyone else is doing it too it doesn’t feel hard, in fact you get a very good understanding on retreat about just how much energy you expend each day on being polite, conscientious, friendly, happy, successful, on point, essentially good… the list goes on. I’m not saying any of these things are bad or that I don’t want to do them, but having a greater awareness of all the time and energy spent on it is powerful. There is greater discernment with awareness, which gives us choice. Yay for choice.
Fact #4 “Shit happens, things change, don’t take it so personally”. Pain is definitely going to show up over the course of the retreat, but the aim of to investigate the sensations rather than reacting to them. This goes for painful/ unpleasant mind states too. This seems counter intuitive but it really is amazing as the more I do this the less affect these states/pains seem to have over me… again this is an incredibly useful tool to develop for life. These retreats make me feel so much more equipped to meet adversity. There is less fear and a much deeper understanding of my impermanent
Fact #5 If Melbourne floods this weekend I will not know about it until December 11th. If Trump does something more stupid, if that’s possible, I will not know about it. If a volcano goes off in Bali I will not know about it. It’s actually kind of blissful. Life can feel very nice without the incessant knowing of things, and it’s will be exactly the same whether I read about it or not. So for now I am just going to sit. And as David Henry Thoreau wrote “I love a broad margin to my life” so for now I’m going to take an incredibly broad margin… I’ll see you all on the flip side.