Silence, Stillness, and Returning From Retreat

Last week I left to go to a four-day silent retreat up in the snowy rural woods of central Massachusetts.

The retreat was long days of sitting and walking meditations, mindful eating, noble silence, and being in stillness. We were instructed not to journal or read, and we relinquished our cell phones and devices upon starting the journey.

A typical day started at 5:45am with a 30-minute sitting meditation, followed by breakfast and yogi work sessions, a 3-hour session of sitting and walking meditations, lunch and rest, a second three-hour session of sitting and walking meditations, dinner, and then an evening talk, a sit, and preparing for bed around 9:15pm.

Yesterday I returned back to New York City: loud, traffic, busy, fast, hurried, avoiding eye contact, loud.

I’m processing the retreat (and likely will for a while) and wanted to share a few observations.

We need more time for emotional digestion

We need time for processing of our thoughts and feelings. We also need methods. We don’t have a culture that really allows for this or supports this is many ways. Meditation is just starting to catch on with early adopters and tip into mainstream news, but the idea that sitting with yourself is something to do, and to be, and to be with, is harder than ever to find.

So many people are depleted

Exhausted. Overworked. Tired. We are too tired, too often, from doing too much.

The hard thing is that simplicity is hard work. At least at first, but even the diligence to maintain it can be hard.

How we “rest” is not always restful

Often times we fill up on things that make us feel better because they help us avoid the chatter in our minds. For me, television (I’m currently watching through Parks and Rec), reading social media, or getting lost in news or shopping can be ways that I mindlessly scroll and spend time when in actuality, I am depleted and in need of rest.

As I pay attention to what fills me up and what leaves me feeling less energized, I am learning the paradox of work that builds me up, and work or effort that leads to worse feeling.

As they say, “some suffering leads to more suffering, and some suffering leads to less suffering.”

Choosing well is the art of wisdom.

Sitting with yourself is work

We spend a lot of energy and time in this culture avoiding ourselves.

To say that it was a “retreat” is a bit of a misnomer.

To journey inwards can be the work of a lifetime, and it can be slow, it can feel strange, and it definitely (for me) felt like it wasn’t adding up to anything in the moment.

The teacher then reminded us that afternoon, “Even if it doesn’t feel like anything is happening, it is. You are changing by being here, even if you don’t feel like you are.”

But looking inside is such a gift to yourself, and a world of its own to explore. What a strange and curious thing the mind is. What an opportunity to look, to revel, to laugh, to be still.

To notice and observe

True community passes the shadow test

I learned this idea from one of the teachers on the retreat: to be in community with others is to be willing to see each other’s shadows and help bring light to our areas of growth.

This knocked me open. Community isn’t just the art of being in contact with each other, or seeing the best parts of ourselves, or saying hello on a daily basis. Community isn’t a presentation or a performance or an act.

It’s showing up as your full self, scars and wounds and ignorances and all, and allowing yourself to be seen. And trusting, over time, that the other people within the community will miss you when you’re gone, will guide you kindly and compassionately when you err, and will help you when you fall.

Nothing in this world is more than a passing moment. How you practice spending each moments affects how you experience your life of moments.

I am so grateful, SO GRATEFUL, to have people I love in my life and to have a community that missed me while I was gone. Eternally grateful for the texts from my sister and the letters from the husband and the insistence of my family that my being gone made things too quiet. That kind of love is to be cherished. I missed you.

I love you all.

To your own inquiry, now and again.


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3 Responses to Silence, Stillness, and Returning From Retreat

  1. Emily says:

    Would you mind sharing the retreat place you attended? I live in MA and would love to explore it. I’ve been looking for a meditation retreat like the one you explained. Thank you!