It’s difficult to talk about what happens on a silent meditation retreat because so little really happens. You sit, you walk, you eat, and you take care of a few tasks. It matters what you don’t do. I’ll do my best to explain.
Last winter, I convinced my editor to send me to Woodacre, California, for a week without cell phone or email access to learn about the word silence. Think about it. 358 days a year, your calendar runs from morning to evening with meetings, dinners, birthday parties and families. These are the things that fill your estimated 35 to 48 thoughts per minute because dropping a ball in the real world can seem downright disastrous. But for a week at West Marin’s Spirit Rock Meditation Center, you have the opportunity to mute your life between golden, rolling hills and redwood-strewn mountains. This is the remote, optimistic landscape that made John Muir “play and pray”, Jack London to take inspiration from a club, Jack Kerouac to quietly ponder ways. . . may appreciate a whole new way of life. “And here is a man in black robes telling me after I check in, the only thing I really need to remember for the next week is,” There’s no rush. “Although there is a strict schedule of activities, I just have to Pop up.
Of the 45 different retreats offered at Spirit Rock throughout the year, I chose one that focused on metta, a Pali word that means “loving kindness”. I might as well be nice to myself. My first exercise in self-care is unpacking my things. I find my room in a women’s shelter called Mudita, which means “joy”. It’s small and clean – monastic. There is a single bed with a heavy dark blue cotton blanket, a side table and a chair. The light switch only controls the light above my bed and leaves another corner pretty dark with a closet, sink and mirror. A small night light is all I can find to light up the part of the room where I store a stack of warm sweaters and leggings and a bag of fragrance-free items. According to the guidelines emailed to me, even shampoo and conditioner should be silent. Otherwise, the rules of the seven day retreat are simple and straightforward. There will be no talking, no reading, no internet, no phones, no notes to other yogis, absolutely no sexual contact – even eye contact is not recommended.
What ultimately pulls people into retreat and keeps them coming back again and again is a mixed bag. My own desire for peace and quiet could easily have been explained as a side effect of balancing friendships, dating, and family commitments with a timely job in the city that audibly never sleeps. But the reality is that in addition to these millennial trials, both of my parents died within two years. And they were sick for a collective six. All of this means that I have been panicking for most of a decade trying to escape the fate of my family and override the possibility of being alone in the world. Neither worked.