After reading my last blog post, a friend asked, "So, what is a silent retreat like?"
I paused before responding, not knowing exactly how to answer. If you've never attended a silent meditation retreat you probably have one or two preconceived notions, like I did. I promise you, none of them are accurate. So, then, how to sum it up?
It is sweet, and tender, and not for the faint of heart.
It is walking through the foggy morning in Geronimo Valley cradled by the graceful hills of the coastal mountains. It is savoring a breakfast of homemade granola and chai tea, made by kind and loving hands and offered without recompense. It is devouring a syrupy sweet, stewed apricot as tears slide down your cheeks because you can taste your own journey, and the journey of those around you. It is embracing the deep understanding that all our journeys begin and end the same way.
We are human.
The sound of silence is deafening. You can hear your own blood coursing through your veins in a world devoid of constant disruptions from man and machine. It is a silence known only to prisoners in solitude, I suspect. And then probably not even a silence like this. There are no clanging doors. No keys in locks. Few locks at all, really. Everyone, and everything, is open. Every door and every heart.
If you look -- and you will -- the birds will flit from one microscopic morsel to another, serenading you with the flutter of their wings. The cacophony of growing plants is irresistible to the ear, as is the summertime drip of rivulets from winter's robust stream. All of it alive. So very alive.
Like you are.
You breathe in your own aliveness.
You gather with others, your souls shouting your humanness as you turn inward to understand the nature of what that really means. Not looking outside or elsewhere for some Great Other to save you, but seeing yourself as who, exactly, you are. Human beings. Alive. Alone. Yet connected together by that silvery thread of life.
You set your intention for the day -- to be kind to yourself, and to one another. You take responsibility for your own actions, and words, and -- most especially -- your thoughts, which guide your every move. You uncover layer after layer of who you think you are, and who you hope to be.
You learn to notice the feelings of joy, or sadness, or anger, and by merely noticing to clearly see them for what they are. They are not you, but a story you tell yourself. You learn not to get wrapped up in these stories but to view your human experience with compassion and kindness, and to forgive yourself for not being as "perfect" as you think you should be. And to live with things as they are, not as you wish they were.
And above all, you experience the now of it all. What it means to be fully present. Whether you are sitting on a cushion breathing in and out or walking slowly, tracking with the precision of a violinist the movement of your human body passing through the air, one foot landing softly after the other. It is a deepening -- a slowing down to grasp living in a way that leads to a life of completeness rather than rushing from this thing to the next. It is a letting go of all that pulls and tugs and separates us from one another to a place of pure peace in our own existence and connection to all of humanity. It is breathing in this moment and no other. It is opening to the fullness of your human experience. It is the most peaceful, serene essence of what it means to truly exist in the reality and beauty of now.
"That sounds amazing," said my friend, her eyes wide with wonder.
"Yes. It was," I replied.
Life is amazing.