Over the past 20 years I’ve spent countless hours in voluntary silence.
My first exploration was when I first separated from my husband and he took our kids to Ottawa to visit his parents between Christmas and New Year’s. I had a week off, I’d been through the wringer, and what I wanted most was to stay home, fast, be silent, journal, meditate and do some deep self care. I turned off the phone and television and let myself unwind. I came out of those days refreshed and lighter, having digested many feelings and energies that had backed up in my system. For the next 5 years or so, my Christmas to New Year’s home silent retreat became a ritual that I looked forward to. Each time had a unique flavor, and I worked through challenging emotions, physical symptoms, relationship issues, career questions and more. I usually also found myself doing some deep clearing and cleaning in at least one room of my house. Since then, I’ve done many day-long, week-long and at one point, 40 days in silence both on my own and in groups.
Voluntary silence is a commitment to turn inwards because we’re interested in getting to know ourselves better. We realize that in order to do that most efficiently and earnestly, we need to separate from the usual distractions of our lives. Just as we go on vacations with our beloved to explore and enjoy our relationship more deeply, a silent retreat is a vacation with our soul, capital ‘B’ Beloved. While silence enables us to listen more closely to our hearts and our bodies, it also magnifies the patterns that we’ve outgrown and guides us to more evolved ways of being.
Over the years of doing self-retreats, attending and teaching them, I’ve found that certain components are key to the experience.
Intention is the rudder of the retreat experience. I encourage participants to reflect on a personal intention prior to coming together. Often we’re already aware of an intention or soul assignment, as I like to call them, and that’s what sparks us to sign up in the first place. What is your intention for joining the retreat? What do you wish to explore? Is there an emotion, symptom, or relationship that you would like to bring deeper attention to? Is there something in your life that you need clarity on? Is there a personal quality that you’ve been wanting to develop and bring forward? Is there something you’d like to let go of? In addition to participants’ personal intention I also often intuitively choose an intention for the group as a whole which can contribute helpful perspectives.
I love to insert periods of movement in the retreats that I guide. Gentle and intuitive movement can help to prepare the body for longer periods of sitting and deeper meditations because it gets us more present in our physical being, helps us to relax, and moves emotional energy. Many people report settling into meditation more easily after movement.
I like to include both guided and silent meditation periods in retreats. As a retreat facilitator I often sense that the group as a whole could benefit from a specific focus in meditation particularly earlier in the day when the mind is likely to be more active. As the retreat unfolds the sitting periods are gradually extended with more and more silence.
ClearBeing retreats almost always incorporate singing, usually chants in Sanskrit and/or English, accompanied by my guitar. Singing is the most direct way that I know of to shift us from our heads to our hearts. It also naturally calls forth deeper breathing which is essential for relaxing into being. The vibrational qualities of the chants evoke direct energetic openings and, when we hear our own voice blending with that of others, it enhances the sense of community, connection and support.
In the day-long urban retreats that I offer, I love to prepare the food that we share. The day prior to the retreat, I go to the Village Market and carefully select the produce that will go into the simple dishes that I plan on creating. I feel that each ingredient contributes its wholeness and essence towards our own return to wholeness.
If you’ve been curious about silent retreats, I hope that this little exploration gives you the encouragement to jump in. For those of you who have done retreats in the past maybe this is a reminder to give yourself some much needed Beloved time.
You are most welcome to join us for the upcoming SPRING ClearBeing Urban Retreat on March 25th from 9.30 am to 4 pm at the Canadian Academy of Therapeutic Arts.