Today's post is another chapter for my work-in-progress memoir that shares my experience while attending a 7-day silent retreat in 2010. This chapter picks up where April's post, Coming into Power, left off.
Thank you for taking the time to read today!
Cellular reception at Omega was pretty much limited to texting and email, so I took the shuttle into town to telephone my kids. I would go off the grid entirely that evening at the commencement of my seven-day silent retreat. Disconnecting was not something I’d done since the nineties when I bought my first mobile phone. Feeling a little apprehensive about being out of touch, backup measures were put into place for emergency purposes.
While in town, I ate a non-vegetarian meal, window shopped, and enjoyed the crisp fall day and passersby. Wandering into the old five-and-dime store was like a step back in time, and I admired the various trinkets, from Gumby to Slow Poke candy and fine dyed wool. After selecting a pair of knitting needles and yellow spun yarn, it was time to catch the shuttle bus back to campus.
Instructions and setup
The first evening of the silent retreat began with instructions— we were not to talk or make eye contact or simple gestures. Nor were we to read, jog, or do yoga. No activity was allowed, other than eating and journaling, unless it was new for you and arose organically. We were to meditate en masse, in a seated position and on a rigorous schedule, and attend two satsangs daily.
After the guidelines were made clear, I asked permission to occasionally lie down in the hall. My back and shoulders were aching from sitting on the floor in BackJack chairs since being at Omega. My special request relegated me to the back right corner of the room along with other persons seeking exceptions to the rule.
With everyone settled in their places, Adyashanti delivered the first satsang or discourse of the week, and I slept soundly through it, almost entirely. The week followed in much the same manner. It seemed that along with the silence, the great sleep had descended upon me.
A novice's experience
Strictly abiding by the retreat rules wasn’t practical for a novice. The group meditation sessions occurred about seven times a day, and I did not attend a single one. I understand now that meditation is an integral part of the silent retreat experience, but at the time, I didn't really get it. Silence to me meant no talking versus being in stillness and the present moment.
My GI tract had been unhappy with the vegetarian diet all along, and with heightened senses created by the silence, my stomach was wreaking havoc. I had a little trouble with the people too. At times, when looking across the dining hall, I felt touched by the oneness and connectedness of us all—seeing a divine spark within each person. Conversely, an occasional gaze across campus made people looked like ants, zombies, or psychiatric patients who had been allowed to picnic on the lawn. Silent people have a tendency to walk slowly and look depressed or contemplative.
We were a group of 500 people, and at each satsang that Adyashanti designated, people would make their way to the microphone one at a time. Most had difficult emotional issues, and it was hard to listen to these wearying stories twice a day. In my corner I often slept in the nest that I constructed and improved upon throughout the week.
Letters: Steps in Becoming More Honest
In the silence I wrote letters. The first one evolved out of a daydream and was addressed to my father. I was thinking about my time with Mike during satsang and couldn’t remember if I’d thanked him for dinner in Rhineback. This line of thought lead to a question--what about the big thank you? Had I ever really thanked my father for taking care of me financially?
My letter included a number of confessions, the first was that I’d taken out a line of credit years before to prevent my father from tracking and judging my spending. I didn't know about or understand my financial situation but at the same time wanted to be a good steward of the money that my dad and grandfather gifted me. I felt vulnerable being given a money tree and not knowing whether it was safe to pick from it. Was the tree bearing a great harvest of fruit, or was it almost picked clean? My letter was open, heartfelt, and expressed gratitude, and my father received it most graciously. It was an important step for me in becoming more honest in my life.
In the process of writing to my children, I discovered some sadness and dread that I had at times failed to be an adequate parent. Had I let my children down? Guilt, shame, and pride were hijacking my letter and taking me away from my intention, which was to honor my children as individuals and as the amazing adults they had become. To love and serve them best in their twenties meant letting go of them. The idea of stepping away from motherhood into the unknown felt hugely scary. In truth, there was no choice; my kids were grown, and it was time for me to find my own way.
peace resides within us
When I wasn't writing, my time was spent meditating, knitting, or painting Color Arising. Handwork can be a prayerful practice—in the Episcopal church we made prayer shawls for newborn babies and parishioners in need of comfort and healing. Painting can be meditative, as can anything and everything we do, if we stay in the moment and trust in the ebb and flow of life.
Before the silent retreat, for over a week I had been experiencing my spirit rising; joy was being revealed in my heart, and I didn’t want to lose it in the silence. Joy cannot be held onto or maintained continuously any more than any other emotion. What I found in the silence, however, is that we always have access to the peace that resides within us. External happenings will ever unfold, and associated emotions will come and go in accordance. In the midst of any circumstances, there is always peace to be found at our center. We only need to connect, by watching our breath and being in stillness.
Ishta Iyotake: The painting
The figure was sculpted using a heavy white acrylic paint and palette knife on cold-pressed watercolor paper in a studio setting from a live model. She has a real sculptural feel, and there is something that I really like about the side of her face and the hollow of her neck and chest. There is a spiritual quality about her and in her surroundings. Her pose suggests that she is comfortable, as if sitting by a stream. She has a stillness about her and is grounded naturally by the land on which she lives and works. She reflects for me that sense of peace that comes when we are at home within ourselves.
Art•Body•Soul offers an active meditation class series and a one-day silent retreat on a quarterly basis. If you are interested in connecting with the peace that always resides within you, either of these options are a great start. We also recommend that you experience the Dalian Method, a tool that speeds up the process of healing and awakening, effortlessly connecting you with the stillness of your being.
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Madeleine Newkirk, Artist, Spiritual Junkie, Dalian Method and Art Process Facilitator.