In a world that is busy, full of movement, hustle, bustle, and noise, a silent retreat becomes a refuge in which these distractions can fall away. All of the overstimulation begins to move from the foreground, into the background of our awareness. As this happens, we begin to listen with new ears and see with new eyes the sacredness imbued in all of life.
A Silent retreat is a time to pause, and listen inwardly and outwardly to the Life within life. It can be intimidating to think of going on a silent retreat. “What will I do?” the mind asks. And I will admit, it does take time to settle into the silence and to allow the silence to embrace you. However, when it does, there is often a welcome relief and in the relief, there is an opening toward something greater than yourself, the Life that wants to touch you, and seeks to be in relationship with you begins to emerge out of the silence. I call this Life presence, God, others call it their higher power, source, creator. Whatever you name that presence, a silent retreat creates a space for it to show you things and draw your awareness toward what is meaningful and life-giving for you.
Many wisdom traditions have a form of silent retreat. This is a time when the exterior distractions can fall away and the interior world becomes more alive and connected. It can be a time to pray, to contemplate, to simply sit and gaze at the beauty of nature. It is a time to pause, catch our breath and be fed by Life.
I went on my first silent retreat when I was 30, the retreat leader began with a story from the Jewish tradition about a woman, who, when lighting the Sabbath candles wept with relief. This woman knew that she was entering a sacred time in which she did not have to smile at anyone if she did not want to, she did not have to enter into a social conversation, all those pressures could fall away and all that was expected of her was to simply be. Upon hearing this story, something in my heart cracked open and my eyes filled with tears. A longing that I didn’t even know I had, was suddenly recognized and felt. I longed to be held in a space of loving silence, where nothing was expected of me, but to simply be, too.
Since that time, I have gone on many silent retreats and each time I have, I discover a well inside that wants to be tapped into. I write poetry, I sit quietly and gaze at the water in a nearby river and I am inspired by it. I rest and something in me opens more fully to the mystery and wonder of life.
St. Augustine once said that silence is God’s first language and I have felt that during silent retreats. The more I sink into the silence, the more I feel held and supported and insights begin to bubble forth from somewhere deep within. The things that are challenging me begin to move into the background. Life becomes crisper and sharper. And sometimes there are cleansing tears as a deep pain I have been holding releases. In all of these moments, the Silence itself holds a loving presence, it creates a container that is so giving. It is a place where the Sacred and I can meet. It is a place with no words, but a place full of Life.