It was five days. No talking. No phones. No computers. No eye contact. No where to "run" from whatever was happening on the inside.
In a way, this was not my first "rodeo." I've been going to intense workshops over the last 4 years which included meditations up to 4 hours. So I am quite used to sitting with myself for long periods of time, and I had countless transformational experiences at these events.
However, while the Silent Retreat shared common ground with the workshops I attended, it had one fundamental difference: there was no goal in the traditional sense. It wasn't about overcoming any obstacles, having mystical experiences, or even improving myself in any way.
The only "goal" was to simply rest as Silence, with no attempt to manipulate or control any object (e.g. Thought, emotion, memory etc.) that may arise. Now, even though there was no goal, resting as Silence has an amazing byproduct: troubling thoughts and emotions tend to diminish.
The reason is because resting as Silence (as opposed to thinking/trying to control emotions) allows space for everything to come and go like passing clouds. We feel at peace when we aren't thinking for this reason - we are focused on the core of our being.
I think most of use would agree that the noise (i.e. Thoughts emotions judgments) that arise in the mind isn't always pretty, so we are very quickly to identify, judge, and try to control our experience in some way. Every attempt to control our internal experience inevitably fails in the long run, which is why so many of us experience familiar "emotional storms" on a regular basis.
Here is an example (and a good learning experience) from the retreat where I was forced to take a closer look at my patterns of thinking and behavior.
My randomly assigned roommate snored quite loud, and I'm a light sleeper, so you can imagine the thoughts and emotions running through my mind and body. I was initially (a few minutes) consumed and identified with internal dialogue which sounded like...
"What the f*** am I supposed to do!"
"I am so angry!"
"I can't believe this is happening!"
You get the idea.
I fortunately remembered why I was there and simply started focusing more on the silent background, the space behind my noisy mind. A number of things immediately became crystal clear...
- I realized there really isn't an "I" this experience. Yes there is a anger, but I am not the anger I am experiencing.
- The noise in my mind was MUCH louder than the snoring.
- While it would be nice to have a quiet roommate, if I'm really honest, it's not going to ultimately (relatively yes ) make my life so much better.
- A solution arose - I got my noise canceling headphones out of the car which helped.
My roommate situation was first of literally thousands of moments where my mind/body wanted to "run" (or something to be different) but I had no where to go. Eventually a questioned popped into my mind: I silently asked my body, "where do you think we are going to go that's better than right here???"
Certainly, relatively speaking, I prefer some moments (e.g. Eating) over others, but ALL of those moments are fleeting - they can never be ultimately fulfilling. As I started to rest in silence more each day, I became more aware that I am in fact the Silence in which I am sensing, and when I am truly attending to "me," I am at peace and don't need anything to satisfy me. We all know peace comes from within, but this was a deeper realization of this truth.
I still experience the same old urges (and certainly satisfy them at times), but now that I am attending more to the Silence that is my true nature, less and less do I feel the need to indulge in external gratification in ways I've always known were not in my best interest.
I enjoy giving and receiving gifts as much as anyone, but I've come to better appreciate that the greatest gift we can give anyone is the peaceful Silence & Stillness of our very own being - each one of us is truly enough. Everything else is ultimately really only icing on the cake.
I'd like to invite you to experiment with this yourself during this holiday season and upcoming new year.