Another extraordinary experience this summer was the gift of silence.
I went for a nine-day silent retreat (which I have done every year for the last several years). There was no cell phone, email or any other contact with the outer world and minimal eye contact with others on the retreat. It was a rigorous schedule – we woke up at 4:45 am and practiced sitting and walking meditation schedule until 10 pm with breaks for meals. The dormitory style room that I shared with another person was sparse and simple.
At the retreat, I found myself both entertained and exasperated by the workings of the inner world – watching the whole circus of the mind at work with the inevitable cascade of emotions that would follow. Sometimes the thoughts and emotions were like little soft clouds on a warm sunny day and other times they felt like overwhelming storms. I was able to see the weather systems rise and pass, leaving in their wake the gifts of wisdom and insight. I saw that when I held what arose with a tender heart, it was much easier to let things go than if I stayed with something with judgment and resistance.
It takes patience, kindness, curiosity and practice to train the heart-mind to meet the present moment. Over and over, the mind and heart wandered, and over and over and over, I remembered to anchor back to the present moment. Just to know the simple present moment – the breath, the feel of the breeze on my skin, the warmth of the sun on my back, the humming bird in the bush, the lizard on the rock and the prayers of the golden grasses as they bowed in the wind.
T. S Eliot once wrote about “a condition of complete simplicity costing not less than everything.” I caught a glimpse of what that meant on the retreat.
As I have returned to my daily life, I notice that I am kinder to the people around me and also to myself. And I am feeling more energetic and making healthier choices and healing. While none of the stressors in my life have changed, I am more resilient to stress and am making wiser choices in how and when to respond.
And I remain so grateful for the gifts of Silence.
Perhaps you too, my dear friend and reader, will consider gifting yourself a little time to be quiet and kind.