I just finished leading five exquisite days of silent retreat for a group here in Nevada City. I am bursting with excitement to share with you the fruits of this adventure, and, at the same time, at a loss for words to talk about five days where there were no words.
Silence has always been, for me personally, the greatest teacher. Sounds paradoxical, doesn’t it? You think of a teacher as giving you messages, insights, guidance…how can silence do that? When I look back on my life, it was from discreet periods of silence that the greatest creative flow emerged. It was from discreet periods of silence that the greatest blessings flowed, synchronicity just happened, and things fell together in the outer world. It was following silence that opportunities flowed into my life most easily.
The main thing that happened during the retreat was absolutely nothing, for one hour at a time. We sat silently, just watching, just being here, for many hours a day. As you can perhaps imagine, your back, knees, and other parts of the body begin screaming in complaint if you do this for very long. So my good friend Pia Shapiro, a Finnish Yoga instructor who has trained dozens of Yoga teachers in Sweden, led us in an hour of Yoga every day: opening the joints, stretching out the ligaments and tendons. The other thing that can happen when you sit for long periods is that energy builds up in parts of the body and then starts to feel “stuck” and uncomfortable. It could accumulate in the solar plexus, or the chest, or even one of the organs, like the liver or kidneys. It happens often on silent retreats that people feel overwhelmed by strong emotions, and then thinking starts to coagulate around those feelings and create a story. The Shao-Lin monks in China discovered this many millennia ago, and developed practices to flow energy through the body, like Tai-Chi and Chi-Kung, and later, acupuncture and martial arts. For one hour in the afternoon we practiced postures and movements from Chi-King to circulate the energy from the connection of the feet into the ground all the way into the connection through the crown of the head to the heavens.
Of course, when you are spending long periods of time sitting quietly–broken only for resting, Yoga and Chi-Kung–the body chemistry goes through some dramatic shifts. You are not burning calories in the same way at all, so we used this time to eat a cleansing, Ayurvedic diet, which has been used for thousands of years in India, also to support the body to be the best crucible possible for awakening consciousness. Our Ayurvedic chefs prepared green smoothies first thing in the morning, and “khichadi” as our staple diet.
Having five days break of silence like this is a beautiful thing all on its own. It deeply rests the body, the thoughts calm down. You feel, after just two or three days, a sense of unqualified peace and presence. The main challenges many people experience are not so much during the retreat itself, but after they return to their life. Without a practice of integration, clarity and well-being, the retreat becomes only a stark and painful contrast to the actuality of day to day life. And so we spent about an hour each afternoon distilling and focusing the insights that arise in silence, so they can become a foundation of a more creative and generous way of living. Besides a brief check-in each day, this was the only talking we did. Using partnered inquiry we explored what we need to let go of in our lives. We explored our deepest passions, and what specific action steps we need, to embody them more deeply.
There has been a lot of talk in the last few decades about the power of intention and the law of attraction, and there is a fundamental truth to it. The things we think and focus on determine the quality of our lives. At the same time many people complain that it just doesn’t work. Most of the things you want to intend, whether financial, health, relationships, or global, just don’t happen. Intention becomes much more powerful when it is just dropped, sacredly, into silence, given over to intelligence beyond out own understanding. A silent retreat is the perfect time to set such intentions.
We are going to offer another retreat like this in May. It will be limited to only 20 people and I would love for you to be one of them.
Please join us for a free Tele-seminar on the Power of Silence on Thursday, February 11th at 6pm PST.