Tuesday, June 03, 2008

When I first looked over my list of YTT assignments I was intrigued and excited by the “24-Hour Silent Retreat”.
7. Silent Retreat Day
Arrange to spend an entire day, 24 hours in silence. You may do this at home if you can create the seclusion, or you may go to a silent retreat center or arrange to spend a day at a country house or location where you will not be disturbed or tempted to speak to anyone. Please observe the following guidelines:
Do not speak out loud or talk to anyone, no communication for 24 hours (unless it’s an emergency).
Create the support you need around you, such as: let your family and friends know that you are doing this and ask them to give you the space necessary during this 24 hour period; unplug phone; turn off the TV and radio; do not receive the mail for a day.
Do not make eye contact or any physical contact with another human being, including pets. Just be with yourself. You may practice yoga and mediation, pranayama, walking and being in nature. Be mindful of whatever you are doing. Notice your breath throughout the day. Notice stretching, feelings of loneliness, sadness, joy, and peacefulness.
DO NOT work at your desk, your job, or your computer, answer or send emails, write in your journal, or do your YTT homework during your silence.
Eat slowly and consciously; or fast on broth or juice; eat lightly. Do your cooking in advance so you spend as little time in the kitchen as possible.
Give yourself this GIFT of 24 hours to be with yourself and your thoughts and feelings. Be loving and compassionate with yourself; giving full undivided attention to yourself. Be a conscious listener for yourself.
Draw a self-portrait as you begin the 24-hour period; and then draw another portrait of yourself at the end of the 24 hours.
Compare the two portraits. What differences do you notice? Journal about the experience once the 24 hours is over. What were your discoveries and revelations? What was easy? What was challenging? Why? What feelings came up before, during and after? How might silence enhance your life? 2 – 3 pages.
A friend, J.R., recommended The Hermitage, near White Pigion, MI as a good place to retreat. So I made reservations to arrive at 11am on June 2 and depart at 12 on June 3rd.

When I was preparing to leave for the retreat I was fairly calm. My backpack was light since I wasn’t allowed to bring any distractions: no computer, no books, no music or games. Just a change of clothes, toothbrush, vitamins, a couple of light meals, pillow and yoga mat. Leaving I was perhaps a little bit apprehensive. Would I have everything I needed? Will it be challenging? Would I go crazy all alone in the woods? Would I have some transformative enlightening experience?

As a drove to the Hermitage I started to breath more deeply, my mind started to quiet, and I just enjoyed the drive through the countryside. Upon my arrival David graciously welcomed me, showed me a map of the grounds and how to get to my cabin. My cabin, Caryll House, was a 10-minute walk through the woods and over a pasture from the main building. It was a beautiful 20-foot house with 8 walls, 4 of which had huge picture windows in them. It was beautifully set right in the middle of the forest. It had everything one could need, but nothing to clutter the space: several jugs of water, kerosene lights, heater and stove, a comfortable bed, chair, and table, a deck all the way around and a latrine 40 feet away.

From the moment I arrived I felt relaxed and at ease. Throughout the afternoon I meditated, drew my first self-portrait, took a nap, ate a light lunch. In the late afternoon I walked over to the labyrinth, which was in a valley of a meadow 5 minutes away. I walked through the labyrinth repeating my own version of the loving-kindness meditation:

May I be filled with loving-kindness.
May I have vibrant health.
May I be completely present, letting go of sorrows of the past and worries of the future.
May I be happy.

As I started walking through the labyrinth I felt a bit impatient, wondering how and when I would get to the centre. But within several minutes as the loving-kindness meditation began to sink in and be spoken from my heart, my core, and not just my head, I slowed down and began to just trust the path to take me where I was supposed to go. Looking back, I find this is quite metaphorical for what I need to do in life in general- that I need to continue my devotion to the path, continue lovingly reminding myself to be present, asking to be filled with loving-kindness, while trusting that life will take me where I need to go. In time, I arrived at the centre. I sat into a deep squat and spend several minutes meditating there. When I felt ready, I started the journey back out of the labyrinth. I still walked slowly, just repeating the word love over and over in my mind and took in the surroundings. Listening to the birds, noticing the wildflowers covering the hill, the trees on either side of the valley. I felt deeply grateful.

For the remainder of the evening I hiked several trails, and practiced asana and pranayama in my cabin. I fell asleep softly just as a thunderstorm was rolling in. Warm rain fell throughout the night, and I woke up slowly in the morning, taking the sounds of the birds coming back out after the rain, the bugs starting to buzz again, the leaves dripping off in the breeze. I made tea and sat on the porch where I meditated for some time, drawing my second self-portrait and sent the loving-kindness meditation out to all the creatures of the forest and several friends back home. I practiced several more asana and some pranayama. Then I slowly prepared to leave. The Hermitage asks you to clean and cabin and change the linens for the next guest, and while you do this you are to pray for them. I think this was a really beautiful way to leave the place- leaving love and blessings there for the next hermit. The entire time I was there I felt like I was in a very blessed, loving space.

Overall I found the experience easier than I expected. Time passed slowly but did not drag on. The allotted 24-hours felt like the right amount of time for my first experience of the sort- it didn’t feel rushed or too short, yet I left hoping for more sometime soon.

Throughout the entire time, I noticed how steady my emotional state was. Normally I have quite rapid inflection in my emotional state, throughout one day or even several hours I may experience happiness, excitement, frustration, uncertainty, annoyance, light-heartedness, and so on. This 24-hours was different. I felt a steady sense of contentment peacefulness, gratitude, and even enthusiasm. None of these emotions were outwardly experienced, I didn’t smile or laugh or skip through the fields. I felt them deep inside, through the core of my self. I think this is the most powerful thing I will take away from this experience. I feel that these feelings took hold, grew and strengthened through the 24-hours. As I am returning to the world filled with people, noise, talking, I’m sure I will again experience all the emotions that I previously experience outwardly. Yet, I trust that I can return to the inner sense of contentment that I cultivated during the retreat. I am discovering how I can maintain this grounded inner contentment that stays with me at my core despite other emotions that may come and go.

How might silence enhance my life? Silence is my tool as in continue to cultivate and strengthen this inner sense. When I meditate, and practice asana and pranayama on my own in silence I can ascend into the core of my being where this steady contentment resides. I can help it to grow through being silent, through consciously listening. I can see silence playing an important part in my life through these sorts of daily moments of silent meditation and yoga. Also, I would like to set an intention to take silent retreats on a regular basis, perhaps several times a year. I think it is through retreats, of a day or more, that I can cultivate this sense of inner steadiness and contentment most fully and effectively.

I am deeply grateful for this assignment, for Karen’s guidance and restrictions for the 24-hours; to the Hermitage for a most beautiful and comfortable setting for my retreat; and to myself for taking the time, for being open to let the silence touch me, and for the divine in me and all around me.

(If you’re interested in taking a retreat at the Hermitage, I’d be happy to pass on their contact info, just post a comment with your email.)

1 comment:

yogirt said...


i came across your blog through a search on google and i'm glad i found it. your silent retreat story really resonated with me...it's something that i've always wanted to do. my monkey mind is incessant, and meditation and yoga have been instrumental in keeping it calm. however, i think an extended silent retreat could really help me. i would love to learn more about the hermitage that you went to...please email me at cloudtrekker@gmail.com.