Monday, June 24, 2013

Silence, Stillness and Grace: Day 4 - 30 Day Challenge

I have a confession to make. I just love silence and the many gifts that silence has to offer. I am one of those people who can be at home for a day or two and enjoy being in a space without music, TV, phone, etc.; in other words, being in an intentional space of silence. Don’t get me wrong, I love being with people and thoroughly enjoy the world of conversation as well. There is something about being in silence though that feeds me – body, mind and spirit. So, it was in the spirit of a love of silence that I signed on for my first extended meditation retreat.

 This retreat, which took place in California, was a ten day Vipassana meditation retreat which I later affectionately dubbed “Meditation Boot Camp.” Ten days of silence with none of the regular daily distractions that we take for granted – no talking, no eye contact, no music, no reading, no exercising, no journaling and no outside stimulation or distraction – just hours and hours and hours of physical stillness and meditation each day. What happened for me over the course of the ten days was magical and transformational in ways that I never could have imagined.

For me, the silence part of the retreat was not the challenging part; the challenging part was how physically uncomfortable it was for me to sit for hours and hours and hours on a small square meditation cushion in a meditation hall with 120 other meditation students. Although I had made the commitment to be fully present at the retreat for the entire ten days, at the end of day one, I honestly didn’t know how I would physically make it through the ten days. I noticed that others also showed signs of physical and emotional discomfort as well, which somehow seemed to manifest through the desire/effort to be as physically comfortable as possible. How this showed up for many of us was through trying to find the right combination of meditation pillows and props to ease our “discomfort.” During the short breaks between meditation sessions, many (myself included) searched through a shed outside of the meditation hall that was filled with meditation pillows/cushions left behind by prior retreat participants. It was almost as if the finding of the “perfect” combination of pillows and/or props would provide the antidote to our physical and psychic pain. Of course, nothing worked. The answer rarely is “out there.”

 For five days, I searched during each break, along with many others, for the perfect combination of pillows to ease our physical discomfort. I personally tried a myriad of combinations of pillows and blankets and props. Not surprisingly, nothing worked to ease my intense physical discomfort. And then, something that I can’t rationally explain happened. On day five of the retreat, something shifted internally for me – I found myself in a place of pure ease and peacefulness, where time actually slowed down to a still point. It was a place beyond discomfort and beyond words – a place of elegant and profound silence. I had never experienced this type of silence before. Although this initial retreat took place well over 10 years ago, I can still feel the impact of my shift to that place of still and profound silence. I imagine that this experience is what true grace is all about. Amazing grace!


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