Monday, March 12, 2012

A Retreat Into Silence

So much to share so much to tell, and what a stark contrast to the sensory overload felt on the fun filled, action packed, on the go, tiring vacation in Orlando, Florida. This past weekend I participated in my first silent retreat, but more importantly, it was my first retreat ever. I am not exactly sure why over the years I had developed some kind of  nervous trepidation about attending a retreat. When I was younger, my sisters participated in retreats as part of their Catholic school experience. I recall feeling jealous and in awe of what exactly this thing called a "retreat" was and badgered my mother about when she thought I would be old enough to attend one. It never happened for me since my own parochial school life was disrupted when we moved to a new town. The Catholic school there had a wait list for new students, so my parents made the tough decision to place me in public school. (So sad to recall a time when Catholic schools actually had wait lists.) And there ended my interest in retreats.

Over the last few years since working more deeply with  a mindfulness practice in daily life, I sensed a retreat was indeed the next step for me.   I started to explore my options.  There are a multitude of places in the New England area to attend one, including Aryaloka in NH, a place I know and happen to love. I think a large part of my nervousness mentioned earlier stemmed from my not wanting to share a room with other participants, which is a must at Aryaloka. So quite frankly since I already had enough trepidation about attending a retreat,  I did not feel it necessary to add to this anxiety by sleeping in a room with 1, 2 or possibly more strangers. Far too intimate an experience for me and I personally think it can detract from the overall benefits of a retreat experience. Some of the other,  larger places in my area that do indeed have private rooms, sounded more like spa visits (which are wonderful) but not what I was looking for this at this time. I was at a loss and confused so turned to a trusted friend and long time meditator like myself, Judy Gross, for advice. She was quickly able to assess what it is I desired and mentioned feeling much the same way I did about sharing a room. We talked about Insight Meditation in Barre, Massachusetts. A tranquil and quiet place for true contemplative retreats. I had looked into them prior to our talk, and wanted to attend, unfortunately the retreats there are often for 7 to 10 days and it is too difficult to schedule with my 7 year old son, husband's travel schedule, and no family in the area to lean on for childcare  purposes. So Judy mentioned her own upcoming mindfulness retreat she was leading at Our Lady of Hope House of Prayer in New Ipswich, NH. I signed up the very next day.

The irony that my first retreat experience would be held at a Catholic based retreat center was not lost on me. In fact, like most things in my life, I just knew this was what I needed to do and where I needed to go. So, I packed my bags and headed off to the retreat with some sadness in my heart at leaving my son and husband overnight, and a bit of nervous energy about being with a complete group of strangers for the weekend. But, if I have learned anything in this life of mine, it is that one learns far more from facing one's fears then running from them, so off I went.

From the minute I walked in the door at Our Lady of Hope, I felt this strong sensation of being in the right place at the right time. Serendipity? Fate? Karma? Who knew for certain, all I knew was that the homey and comforting atmosphere of the center took me back to my childhood. There was a warm, motherly sense about the place that just felt right and as I walked into the bright and cheerful kitchen that had a huge window looking out upon the many bird feeding stations perched high up for our viewing pleasure,  I felt a wave a calm pass through me, and the words "everything will be OK" enter my mind.

I was greeted by a very warm and friendly woman named Kathy, who showed me to my room, along with Judy, who we met up with coming down the stairs. We walked up two flights of stairs and down a thick and softly carpeted hallway to a small room at the end of the corridor. The furnishings were spare but the homey atmosphere that abounded was palpable. From the minute I walked down that hallway I felt as though I had been transported back to my youth and overnight stays at my Nana and Grundy's house. There were rose patterned sheets for us to make up our beds, a comfortable chair in the corner with a hand crocheted quilt that added some colorful whimsy and more Nana-like comfort  to the decor. There was one nice sized window that overlooked the woods, a closet/wardrobe, desk with lamp and as an added bonus, a large vanity and mirror, complete with soap, towels and a sparkling clean water glass. Next to the bed was a small, wooden night side table with a pretty, shiny blue and gold reading lamp and alarm clock placed on top of a pure white, lace doily. I was so taken in by the charm and attention to detail in this room and instantly felt like I was indeed going to be well-cared for over the course of this weekend.

After settling in and making up the bed,  I proceeded to the kitchen to await the arrival of the rest of our group. Once we were all present the housekeeping needs and agenda for the weekend's activities were discussed and we all settled into the comfortable room that would become our meditation, yoga room, and meeting place for the duration of the retreat. We were surrounded by books, a beautiful wooden mantle and fireplace, comfortable furniture, capreted floor, soft couches and a huge bay window overlooking the woods, and sky. The silence for all of us, now began, we were not to speak for the entire length of the retreat, until just before dinner was served on Sunday. No speaking for meals as well and it goes without saying that we were not to use any cell phones or mp3 players here. For some, this may strike a note of fear, although I can assure you the benefits far out weight any initial nervousness this might engender. And, an added bonus, it was nice to not have to make small talk at meal time with people one barely knows in an effort to feel comfortable. This can be so draining sometimes.

Rather then go into a lengthy, minute details about the retreat I want to do something here I rarely do with anyone, let alone complete strangers, and that is share a small, somewhat  edited portion of my journal entry written just before our evening meditation and supper break.  These thoughts came crashing in as though on a wave, but rather then struggling to make sense of it, or give it meaning, I let the thoughts come and go, as though I simply was a conduit, and the thoughts just needing to flow onward and outward.

Journal Entry:

First retreat, here in NH, Temple? No Litchfield? (no that sounds wrong) perhaps brain tired, no not tired, calm, so many emotions, feeling Nana and Grundy-Aunt Dot, so Catholic here, Our Lady of Hope, food delicious - atmosphere- homey- people, sweet, like it here and glad my first retreat ever is with Judy- she creates an air of so much security and love - she cares - I like my room, # 4, corner - nice bed- upstairs,  floor #3  walking meditation, smells like church here, safe -  smells that remind me of childhood - deep purple napkins and place mats on dinner table, candles glowing, wooden cross, Lent, beautiful - birds outside window - love to watch them - thinking of Aunt Dot's house here and my childhood - lots of emotions barreling on in but through it all,  stillness, child-like curiosity, wonder, feel good and protected here, sisters are so kind to do all this for us, place spotless, Chapel was so peaceful and dressed for Lent, all in deep purple, feels good, it is a lovely haven here. looking forward to rest of day, love it here - so peaceful, much to learn - body in stillness, mind at rest - world left alone - feels good to let go!

I will end here, but will add more later in the week, after I have had to process it all. Needless to say, this is going to be the first of many retreats to come in my life as the benefits of making this time to shut out the world and have someone else take care of you have been profoundly felt.

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