A Silent Retreat Does Not Have To Be A Boot Camp For The Soul
By Bruce Davis, Ph.D.
Many people yearn for a silent retreat, but they resist actually going because of what they read and hear. Despite all the great reviews, for many a silent retreat sounds more like boot camp then a healing, restorative experience. They wonder, is it true you have to meditate for many hours each day? There must be something more then just sitting, watching the breath, thoughts coming and going, being still? Is it really possible to not talk for hours and days? Doesn’t all this alone time make for more anxiety or at a minimum incredible boredom?
It maybe good to do nothing and just be, but actually just being for days, isn’t this a little too much of a good thing? How does one find inner peace with all the rules, structure and expectation? What does one do with all the noise inside one’s head worrying about everything there is to do when done sitting?
Surely for some the many hours of meditation, structure and expectation: retreat as boot camp approach works. For others, coming from their busy life and mental stress to suddenly just be with their thoughts and feelings is too much, too quick, with too little support. If inner peace and quiet is our goal, why not a silent retreat of simple peace and simple quiet? Time away from the daily noise, the over stimulation of family, work, and the everything else we are doing is a gift in and of itself.
In regards to meditation, perhaps it is not in how many hours we sit but what is actually happening when we are sitting that is important. In our overly mental world, we tend to give too much attention to our heads at the expense of remembering and receiving our hearts. There is much more then observing our thoughts passing by like clouds in the sky. There is the sky itself, with or without clouds.
The sky that we are talking about is actually an ocean of being in our hearts. In the quiet of retreat we can let go, let be, and go underneath the waves of our busy mental life, and feel the ocean of peace within.
A silent retreat is less about not talking and more about listening, especially listening to the stillness in our heart. The pressures of our worldly life are very different as we discover and enjoy the well of being within us. This is heartfulness meditation. There is focus, concentration, practice of receiving the heart in our heart instead of habitually thinking. Each person finds their path, discipline, pilgrimage as awareness rests in the heart and receives all that is present. A silent retreat that includes rest, fun, beauty, good food, nature in other words nurtures and nourishes ourselves, allows for the body and mind to relax as the heart gently opens to a calming awareness.
Underneath our mental traffic is the vast realm of heart essence. This is the awe, delight, and joy meditators of all kinds find and report. For some lots of rules, hours of sitting, and structure helps them to find this place within. For others, all the shoulds and expectations are a distraction. They want a break from demands and structure. They want to kick off their shoes and be a tree, cloud, cup of tea, day dream, heart dream, just be. Heart centered being in silence is what feels safe and brings us to the peaceful harbor within ourselves.
It is challenging enough to let go of work and separate from partner, child, or pet for many days. Making a retreat these days is seemingly more naked being separate from our cell phone. What about the next email and text? Recovering from addiction of any kind, including our addiction to our busy life, is more then a confrontation with the emptiness that our habits are trying to escape from and cover up. A retreat can be fulfilling, gently loving our humanness, holding the emptiness and discovering it is full of heart essence.
Heartfulness meditation leads us to realize the love we seek in our daily world is waiting within us. Having our awareness anchored in our heart is a new life, new perspective, full of new trust and joy. Awareness freed from our mental weight is joyful, simple, pure. The more difficult it is to separate ourselves from our daily routine and be in retreat, the more rewarding a silent retreat can be. Put aside all the fears of boot camp. Beauty, nature, heart centered meditation in silence is a gift that stays with us and keeps giving.
We invite beginners and people meditating for years of all traditions to silent heartfulness retreats at Silent Stay Hermitage near Napa, California.
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Cover Photo from www.returnofkings.com.