“Silence is the soul’s break for freedom”. David Whyte, Crossing the Unknown Sea. There are so many quotable lines in this wonderful book, but this line describes my silent retreat experience. I read it the morning of my last day and thought, yes, this is exactly how I feel. I had a profound since freedom and space. I was energized and excited about returning to the noisy world.
People have had many practical questions which I will attempt to answer. Meals were mainly silent, but the Jesuit community would sit in the back of the large dining room separate from everyone else and speak softly, it wasn’t distracting. You didn’t get any demerits for speaking that I know of. There was wifi service in the lobby if you needed it. I went once a day to email Dan and there was rarely anyone there. Cell reception is poor in the building, but they ask you not to speak on your phone in the building anyway, instead to go to the parking lot. There were about 30 people there apart from the Jesuit community, I assumed on personal retreats. My director was a woman, a sister of Notre Dame, who is trained as a counselor. Since it is a religious community, religion is their focus, there are services everyday, but no requirement to attend, and no pressure to make religion your focus. The Jesuits are a liberal sect and although I’m not Catholic, I felt very comfortable. It isn’t expensive – $75 a night. There are massages available and a small (very small) exercise room – 3 machines. I did yoga in one of the reading rooms, always empty. The grounds are beautiful, but not as secluded or as large as I had imagined. Since it was hunting season, we were discouraged from wandering into the wooded areas. I do recommend a silent retreat experience and there are many other options. I once stayed 5 days at my brother-in-laws’ lake house. It was self imposed withdrawal from communication with the world and served the purpose, although I preferred someone else cooking! You can do a silent retreat at Kripalu or borrow a friend’s remote cabin. There are many buddhist monasteries in the area which host meditation retreats. It doesn’t matter how you do it – just do it. I will do it again.
I decided in an instant, Monday afternoon, that I would rather drive home that night than in the morning. Always follow your instincts, because as soon as I got on the highway and called Dan to tell him of my arrival, he told me about the storm expected the next day. That was the only call I made on the drive, choosing instead to listen to the wise voice of Pema Chodron. It isn’t only silence that’s important, it’s cutting off communication with the outside world, it’s solitude.
Without question, the highlight of my week was the reading of Crossing the Unknown Sea, by David Whyte, subtitled, Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity. This book is FABULOUS. He’s a gifted writer, sharing his pilgrimage through a varied career life. His stories are exciting, his insights profound, and his sense of humor intact. I close with a passage from the chapter titled The Awkward Way the Swan Walks:
We try to construct a life in which we will be perfect, in which we will eliminate awkwardness, pass by vulnerability, ignore ineptness, only to pass through the gate of our lives and find, strangely, that the gateway is vulnerability itself. The very place we are open to the world whether we like it or not.