Last month, I went on a silent meditation retreat. Going on retreat is a gift I give myself twice a year; it deepens my meditation practice and helps me access parts of myself that stay hidden in the activity and distraction of daily life.
Often, these inner explorations take me into difficult, uncomfortable territory and I spend my retreats sitting with anxiety, fear, loneliness and heartache. On retreat, this stuff becomes front and center, and there’s nowhere to go but inward. Old wounds come to the surface, and I re-experience them as if they’re happening all over again. It’s a painful experience, of course, but reconnecting with the pain and meeting it with acceptance and kindness is the balm these wounds need to heal. And in this process of healing, I connect with a deep, resonant joy and sweetness that can only be found by meeting myself with an open heart.
The first time I went on retreat, I wondered how it would be to not speak or make eye contact. I discovered that it’s a wonderful relief to set aside the choreography of daily social interaction. And while it’s true that on retreat I’m alone in my silence, I’m actually not alone because I’m sitting with other retreatants, people who are going through their own realms of suffering and joy. We have the guidance and wisdom of an experienced teacher, who not only gives daily talks and instruction, but is available to help when we feel stuck in our practice. In the safety of retreat community, I find fortitude and courage to face what’s within. And while it may not always be an enjoyable experience, it’s always worth the effort.
For an extensive list of retreat centers and other meditation resources, please visit the Insight Meditation Society’s resource page at www.dharma.org/ims/mr_links.html.