THE VALUE OF THE SILENT MEDITATION RETREAT

The silent meditation retreat is an amazing spiritual opportunity. It assists us in working with the most challenging aspect of meditation and spiritual practice……Integration and embodiment…….. Integrating and embodying meditation and spiritual practice into our everyday life post-retreat is the real purpose of a retreat….The whole point of retreat is return. We retreat or withdraw from our everyday, ordinary busy lives in the world in order to re-group, find our center, and then re-enter the world with a fresh and spiritually transformed perspective..

After we leave silent retreat and wander back into the work-a-day world we normally live in, we struggle with sustaining the insights we gained in our sitting practice while on silent retreat. By repeatedly leaving a practice found in the sacred container of retreat and re-entering with the practice back into a “worldly” one that is not particularly spiritually centered, retreat ants come to understand the power of “spiritual recidivism”, and what it takes to avoid it. Just as ex-convicts or addicts relapse into criminal or addictive patterns of behavior when they re-enter negative environments outside the addiction rehab or prison, retreatants wrestle with the temptation of becoming “egoic repeat offenders”  or “egoic-addicted relapsers” when they leave the spiritual protection the retreat experience offers. But in this cycle of withdraw or retreat and re-entry and return back into ordinary life, we learn how to walk our talk, we learn how to actually embody and become the truth we have seen.

On the last day of silent retreat, we reflect on how to transition back ito ordinary life and to bring with us the practices, wisdom and compassion that we discovered while on retreat.

Silent retreat allows you to practice a form of death and rebirth, for everything must be released when the retreat is entered, and then taken up again in hopefully, a very different way, upon your return to your everyday world away from silent retreat. The opportunity to work with the tug of habitual patterns and the seduction of ego-conditioning, and to consciously choose how you reassemble your post-retreat world, are some of the spiritual benefits of the silent retreat..
WHAT I DISCOVERED ABOUT THE VALUE OF SILENCE BY LIVING IN A “SILENT ORDER”

The Trappists are often called a “silent 0rder”. Some people even believe there is a vow of silence that is taken in the strict monasteries of the Trappists and Carthusians. In  actual fact though, there is no “vow of silence” as such in the Christian monastic world of today. But the monastic environment is indeed one of silence and solitude and prayer. This creates a sacred environment that is conducive to a life centered on spiritual practiced on a transformative journey of the heart.

One thing I learned by living in substantial silence for almost 20 years is that silence makes you vulnerable. Talk about humility…….. When you try to live in silence, you quickly learn how many times a day you are motivated to speak out of egocentricity..to draw attention to yourself, to put forth your opinion over others, to try to manipulate or convince someone of something or to get them to go along with what you want them to do or say. Seeing these kinds of motives behind your speech is very humbling indeed. But it really helps you to sicken of such ego-centered motivations, and to let them go.

But one of the surprising things I also learned about silence that I did not expect at all is that silence actually helps you connect with others on a very deep level. Normally we believe we connect to others through talking. But in the monastery I learned how to connect with others by remaining still and being silently present to them. Through my morning sitting and contemplative practice I connected with the divinity within myself first, so that my interactions during the rest of the day, whether in the kitchen, listening to troubled retreatants or novices or just sitting with an older brother in the monastery cloister or infirmary while we both did our “lector divine” or holy reading…..I experienced deep human connections through the vehicle of silence and presence without words. based on the peace and silence and grounding I felt when I sat silently in Church each morning. That silence stayed with me throughout the day. And it has stayed with me in my life outside the monastery as well….I now usually sit still rather than react in an uncomfortable or tense situation. I enjoy listening. I feel compassion and forgiveness for myself and others. I speak and work from that compassion. During my days of silence in the monastery, I had amazing conversations with others. I laughed and felt connected to them…sometimes, without ever speaking a single word!

Noise and busyness can be distractions from being fully present. Succumbing to others’ or the world’s schedules and demands wears us down and burns us out and keeps us from remembering who we are. Living up to others’ expectations, not setting healthy boundaries, and being “always on” , robs us of our experience of our deepest selves. Being silent helps us re-energize and remember ourself. I came out of the silence of the monastery speaking and living my truth instead of acting and speaking based on other’s truths. During my silent monastic life, I realized I was carrying too big a burden because I always wanted people to be happy and I felt somehow responsible for their happiness. When I realized my responsibility was first of all to myself, I started to create a life where I can be happy and in turn be a better friend, teacher, sibling or lover.

You have to make room for silence in your life….each year, each month, each week, each day. It won’t just happen naturally in our busy, noisy world. But on retreat or in a silent monastery there is an intentional environment of silence that is created and protected and that can contain your deep inner work. After retreat, one thing that we can take back out into the world with us is a practice of silence…. a daily intention to create a space or spaces for silence in our lives, so that as the noisiness and business of our day creeps in, we can recall our intention and settle back into our silent centered self for a few moments. When faced with an uncomfortable situation, we can rest in inner silence en0ugh not to react. Instead we can learn to stop, listen, and THEN act. It sounds like it would take a lot of time and effort  but it really doesn’t.

It’s a way of life that accepts that there will always be people who need you, and there will always be responsibilities and work to get done in life. And yet despite all that, you can create silence for yourself in so many simple ways. Resist checking your phone for ten minutes after you get up in the morning or at some points in the day. Ride the bus or walk down the street without constantly thinking and fuming about something or other. Keep your device off the table when talking with a friend at lunch or at tea. Don’t take calls when you are with others………. Practice being silent and listening instead.

A KIND OF SPIRITUAL RESORT EXPERIENCE

Silent Retreat can become a powerful scared container for serious spiritual practice. Every aspect of distracting daily life has been skillfully tended to for you by others or entirely removed, and the result of that is a kind of spiritual resort experience where retreatants soak in the practices and experience of presence and learn the teachings at a level difficult to approach in everyday, ordinary life. This type of “spiritual resort” may not have lawn chairs, hot tubs and barbecue grills or massages and facials and pedicures to pamper you, but it has meditation, silence and solitude to ease and quiet your soul. Dedicated retreat support staff manage the demands of life that you are normally tied up with, a teacher  provides spiritual guidance to the group and even one on one if you require it. You are daily offered teachings and given meditation instruction.

The result is a sacred container so precious, so supportive and so complete, that nothing is there to dilute the focused exploration of mind and heart. In the midst of this precious sacred container arises insights so deep and transformative that the rest of one’s life can be devoted to the process of unpacking, understanding incorporating and integrating the insights and wisdom gained during  the yearly silent retreat.

From the moment we first sit in meditation and are given instruction in the power of silent presence, all the way to the teachings on compassion and loving-kindness for the creation of an enlightened society, beginning with us….the role of the sacred environment is stressed in silent retreat just as it is in silent monasteries.

It is a marvelous opportunity, not necessarily given to everyone. You really should take advantage of this precious opportunity.