Reflections On My First Silent Retreat
“O Christ you are,
Lord of our Journeying,
Lord of our Searching,
Lord of our Exploring,
Lord of our Finding,
Lord of our Arriving.
May we find that in travelling to the edges
We discover the Centre.”-taken from www.journeying.co.uk
I found this poem on a bookmark in a church from the 1600s adjacent to the retreat center I was stayed at. During an extended lunch break, I wandered into there. I was at Gaia House, a Buddhist retreat center located in Devon England. Reflections on my first silent retreat. Several years ago I attended my first silent retreat at this location. Almost every retreat Gaia House holds is in silence, therefore this abandoned church served as a refuge. On retreat, not only were we to be verbally silent, but we were to not read or write. Our minds could only be stimulated by what was physically around us in real time… our bodies, the fluctuations in our mind, the nature that surrounded us, and the immediate interactions with our atmosphere.
By being in this church, it was slightly cheating. But I didn’t view it in that way. The church had a guestbook filled with past attendees names, there were also notes on a bulletin board written to people who had passed away and even notes to God. Because the church was only kept open by volunteers, it seemed people appeared comfortable to have a conversation with those on another realm. These notes were short, not long profound letters. It was as if people felt safe here, that this bulletin board would serve as a portal. Being silent for days will do that to you. Quiet the mind from external noise, allow one to filter through their own thoughts, and deliver heart messages to those we yearned for dearly. Maybe through our silence we could hear a response from a loved one or God.
Silent Retreat Itinerary
Reflections of my first silent retreat. Our daily routine at the retreat included:
Seven 30-45 minute meditations
Three 30-45 minute walking meditations
One chi gong session
A dharma talk
One hour karma yoga
I added a daily 30 minute self-led yoga session
What arose from this meditation retreat was my purpose. I felt as if I needed to learn to share meditation and mindfulness with others in a way that is palpable. Not many people may allow or give themselves the opportunity to attend several days of silent retreat. But could I assist them with attaining the essence of it? In some ways, this is what this blog is serving to do.
How could I even describe the essence of it?
Silent Retreat Results
I wasn’t sure what to expect from the retreat. There were no mind altering meditation sessions. The goal of self-realization was not attained. I don’t even know if I could state I had a “good” meditation session. But I did work on learning to control my monkey mind. A monkey mind is our human mind that has endless fluctuations of thoughts throughout the day. I brought it back to the present place.
One of the leaders of the retreat discussed how we should breathe through our seat (while sitting) or our feet (while standing). Allow our body absorb up the earth’s energy. She would signify with her finger to breathe into now, drawing her finger up and down vertically several times. Breathe vertically into the present, instead of how we usually breathe horizontally. Horizontal breath is back to the past or forward to the future. Her finger motioned this as well. This simple demonstration and practice was shifting. We were informed throughout each practice to “feel how this is in our bodies right now.” In practicing this multiple times per day, our bodies could imprint this experience to return to whenever necessary.
Through practice, this becomes available as a “go to” tool to return to.
Silent retreats are not once in a lifetime experiences, but something that we should have in our lives frequently. They serve as reminders for us to arrive to now. The mind will fluctuate. Return to now.
Breathe In Breathe Out
There are so many breathing techniques that we can engage in to deepen our spiritual experience. But there is one Thich Nhat Hanh would say often that has stuck with me. “Breathing in- say to yourself I know that I am breathing in. Breathing out-say to yourself I know that I am breathing out.” He had noted that in this simple exercise, “our breath can become peaceful and gentle, and your mind and body can also become peaceful and gentle.” We breathe every second of the day, but how often do we do it in a mindful manner? Through centering our brain on this activity, we can feel a sense of calmness arise.
I began to talk with my mother about the concept of mindfulness. I led her through the practice of “Breath In, Breathe Out.”’ I also shared numerous resources such as books, apps, and websites, but what has stuck is that mantra “Breathe In, Breathe Out.” It doesn’t take much to remember. Yet she frequently forgets.
My mother struggles with extreme highs and lows. Several years ago, as she crawled out of the low with the assistance of her husband and local family support, I reminded her of the phrase “Breathe In, Breathe Out.” She was inspired to have this be easily accessible that she got it tattooed on her left forearm!
Mindfulness is Contagious
These are reflections of my first silent retreat. Oftentimes, I think of this large aspirational goal to impact others with potential of mindfulness and meditation in their daily lives. My ideal audience is clients, workshop attendees, and future readers of my books. At times I feel I am not successful until that latter monumental task is achieved. But perhaps success starts at home. If I could convert and assist my mother to breathing into now, instead of the past and future, it is enough. A tattoo is more than enough, it’s a transformation!
To listen to a meditation by the late Thich Nhat Hanh, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J62F0Y6PKes .
If you are looking for a retreat at Gaia House in the UK, find information here at https://gaiahouse.co.uk.
For more on 10 tips for your first silent retreat, check out this blog post https://amodernpilgrimage.com/top-10-preparations-for-a-silent-retreat/, for more reflections of my first silent retreat.
“In every day, there are 1,440 minutes. That means we have 1,440 daily opportunities to make a positive impact. “-Les Brown