My Silent Retreat

About 17 years ago I was fortunate to have a friend offer the use of their cabin in south central BC for a couple of weeks, to which I gratefully agreed. The cabin was beside a small lake, about 25 miles from the nearest accumulation of humans. I had just spent 3 years (after graduating from massage school) working as diligently as I could to establish my new career as a massage therapist, and I desperately needed a break. So I loaded my vehicle with supplies, picked up the keys and directions from my friend, and off I went. No electricity, no radio, no TV, no phones (I didn’t have a cellular phone then), just me, some food and a desire to ‘get away from it all’ for a few days.

cabin on lake

The first 3 days were spent in trying to meditate, only to have the ‘silence’ feel so uncomfortable that I would have to get up and go for a walk, or a swim, or make tea or coffee, or read a book, only to jump up and ‘do’ something else. I felt I was going stir crazy or shack whacky, but I was determined to enjoy my time away by myself. By day 5 I had settled enough to spend upwards of 90 minutes each morning and afternoon in mediation, interspersed with walks in the woods, observing and listening,… just observing and listening. The effect was to quiet my ‘monkey mind’ to the point it became a quiet conversation with an old friend, and I found myself no longer snacking between meals. I don’t know that I found ‘satori’ but the experience of that silent retreat left a sense of quiet wonder inside me, a refreshed mind and body, and a profound desire for more silent moments.

A number of years later I came across an article in what was then Ode magazine (now The Optimist magazine) entitled “Because God Whispers” by Tijn Touber, a senior editor at Ode magazine. It was about his (and others) experiences of being in silent retreat. I kept that article, and I came across it again a couple weeks ago, and re-reading it awakened a desire to re-visit my silent retreat experience.  To enjoy a period of extended inward reflection, hopefully achieving greater clarity of mind by limiting outward distractions.

So I booked off last weekend from Friday evening until Sunday evening for my silent retreat, which involved having Mary make and serve me meals in our downstairs guest area (bedrooms, family area, etc.), all while I attempted to find the quiet I had previously experienced so many years ago.  I allowed myself one book of significance (not work related or distracting novel), my journals, the Power Deck-Cards of Wisdom and plenty of tea and water. Also, I decided to continue with my usual morning routine of feeding and watering the small chicken flock, morning dog walk, topping up the fire wood supply in the basement and scooping the cat litter. I didn’t need to talk during this time and, as before, realized that even in retreat there are some things/responsibilities that we cannot abnegate. In doing those actions I realized that I can be in retreat in every moment and still apply myself to the demands of daily life; although being in undistracted retreat allows for a deeper awareness of those moments.

Unfortunately, a Saturday snow storm required that on Sunday I attend to the snow clearing with our tractor, effectively truncating my retreat. _MG_5696
I found that even though we live a very quiet life here, it still takes some time to quiet the mind to the point where deep inner reflection is achieved.  I did enjoy the meditations and quiet contemplation, so I’ve booked myself quarterly 2 day retreats this year, I may even make it a life-long habit.

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