As part of my recent time off for vacation, I participated in a five-day silent retreat at Mary and Joseph Retreat Center in Rancho Palos Verdes. Except for one hour each day with my spiritual director, I was silent from 7 p.m. Sunday evening until Friday morning (I left a few hours before the retreat officially ended at lunch time because I really felt done with the retreat center food).
I thought that four full days of silence would be really difficult, but it turned out to be lovely. I learned that I spend a certain amount of time thinking about what I want to say, and of course, listening to others takes time and energy too. Freed from the obligations of talking and listening, I had more space for thoughts and emotions that had gone unnoticed.
And this was the first real retreat I think I’ve ever been on. I “retreat” with my fellow UU ministers in the fall and in the spring, but what we call “retreats” are actually “gatherings,” and we are scheduled from morning through evening. I usually come back exhausted (and grateful for the time with my colleagues, which is always important, if not as restorative as I might wish).
No, this was a real retreat. Outside of meal times, there was nothing I had to do. Even my time with my spiritual director was optional (and I did pass him a note one day to let him know I didn’t want to meet because I wanted to remain silent).
I walked the labyrinth each day. I colored a mandala one morning. I walked through the retreat gardens and spent quite a bit of time on my favorite bench. I read. I journaled a little, but not nearly as much as I had thought I might. I napped.
And the thing that surprised me most was how the days flew by. Each morning I would wake up and think, “How am I going to fill all the hours of the day?” And then it would suddenly be time for dinner. The week went unbelievably fast.
I thought a silent retreat would teach me about silence, but what I really learned about was time. Moving through time like floating on my back in the water, slowly, languidly, with no real sense of where I’m going or any urgency about getting there. The only difference between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. was the sun in the sky and the quality of light.
The retreat was a wonderful experience. I hope to keep some of what I learned about moving at a slower pace with me as I return to my regular life. And I hope the same retreat will be offered again next year. I would definitely go again.
Bright blessings, Sharon