Silence, stillness, solitude

DSC_2945It’s been five days since I returned from my meditation retreat, and I’ve pretty much transitioned back to “normal”. I want to share a little something about that experience, but it’s difficult to put words to it.

The whole retreat environment creates an extraordinary sort of space. After you strip away the chatter of speech and the outside world and relinquish the everyday tasks like feeding yourself, all that is left is time and space to be – to be quiet, to be still, to be with your heart and mind, but mostly just to be.

I spent hours sitting quietly each day, hours walking through the forest and along the beach. I watched the great blue herons fishing in the tidelands. I listened to the muddy ground snap-crackle-pop after a squelch. I sat down with the chatter in my head, with the time not just to listen but to understand. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of moonlight, fog, birdsong, cherry blossoms, and countless other details of the natural world.

No matter how I try, the best I can do is to make it sound mildly pleasant if awfully mundane. And yet that doesn’t even approach my experience. Some days were delightful; some days were battle. In just over a week, the cumulative effect of those days was profound. Part of it fills a well that I can tap into when I need a bit of collectedness over the next months. Part of it is just a shift, little insights that once you glimpse you can’t unsee, let alone imagine living without.

I can’t in good conscious tell anyone that they should do this and yet I can’t imagine that I wouldn’t. In a world of meager time away from jobs and routine and the endless quest to optimize everything, nothing in my experience comes close to the transformative power of a meditation retreat in a single week’s time.

And did I mention that someone walks around ringing a bell to wake you in the morning? If I was living an absurdly lavish life with a passel of staff, one of them would ring a bell outside my door every morning. I’ll keep going back just for that.