I never thought I could survive a 9-day silent mindfulness meditation retreat. Nine days seemed like a whole different ball game compared to the shorter 5-day silent retreats I had previously attended. But when I felt the calling for 9-days, suddenly it felt do-able. And I found 9-days to be MUCH easier than 5-days.
In the weeks leading up to the retreat, I was hesitant to attend as it was the height of the summer. I didn’t want to leave my husband, the ocean, or my chickens for that matter. Yet when I realized I wasn’t going on this retreat alone, but was instead going to spend time with my Highest Self, the entire meaning of the retreat shifted for me and I went with joy.
Mindfulness has helped me tremendously on my journey as a student of A Course in Miracles, as it has truly helped me become a better listener to the Voice of Love within me. The practice has helped me develop a greater sensitivity to KNOWING when my mind is miscreating (i.e. listening to the ego) and it has helped me develop a stronger “muscle” to remember to choose again.
The retreat that I attended was an Insight Mediation (i.e. mindfulness) retreat at a Buddhist retreat center in Massachusetts. The purpose of the retreat was to deepen the practice of becoming aware of moment-to-moment changing experience, to see how desire and craving arises in the mind constantly, and to see how the mind wants to cling to things that are impermanent. The entire practice is about cultivating awareness to what is happening right now in your ever changing present moment experience.
As a student of A Course in Miracles (ACIM), my purpose at the retreat had an added layer – to look at everything that I was aware of WITH my Highest Self (what ACIM calls the Holy Spirit). So if I noticed that the quality of my mind was noisy and restless, I looked at that WITH Spirit. If I noticed that I had anticipation come up surrounding what would be served for dinner, I looked at that WITH Spirit. My purpose on retreat was to withhold NOTHING for myself alone. I was willing to fully share my experience with Spirit and in doing so, I was asking for my perception to be shifted from fear to love. This shift in perception according to ACIM, is a miracle.
Each day followed essentially the same schedule. There was a “yogi job” period (my daily job was to mop and vacuum the floors in a particular building), alternating periods of sitting and walking, periods for meals, guided and non-guided meditation periods, Dharma talks, and brief chances to interact with the teachers.
The grounds were beautiful with miles of hiking trails, apple trees, a meditation hut in the woods, and a huge boulder called “meditation rock” overlooking a lake of blooming lily pads where I sat and practiced.
“I did not read books the first summer; I hoed beans. Nay, I often did better than this. There were times when I could not afford to sacrifice the bloom of the present moment to any work, whether of the head or hands.” – from Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden, Or Life in the Woods.”
Having the opportunity to “just be” with Spirit and have no other distractions was truly a gift (no cell phones allowed, and reading and writing are strongly discouraged). “Noble silence” is practiced throughout the retreat, in which the 90 or so participants all refrain from making eye contact or communicating non-verbally so as to not interrupt one’s present moment practice. Yet there was not one moment that I felt alone. The ACIM lesson “God goes with me wherever I go” became alive for me. Loneliness felt impossible.
It was not until Day 4 or Day 5 when I really noticed my mind begin to settle and I could really rest in the here-and-now (I would be gearing up to leave at this point on a 5-day retreat, so the extra time in silence was really helpful). The wandering attention slowed down, although I became aware that underneath my normal mind chatter seemed to be a layer of white noise. No particular thoughts, but just buzzing thought energy that blocked true stillness. I also noticed fear arise with the idea of this white noise going away. Part of my mind said, “don’t go there, it isn’t safe.” But I met that fear with curiosity. “What is this?” I was willing to look at that fear with Spirit.
Beneath that white noise is Love, and according to A Course in Miracles, that is what the ego is really afraid of:
Under the ego’s dark foundation is the memory of God, and it is of this that you are really afraid. For this memory would instantly restore you to your proper place, and it is this place that you have sought to leave. Your fear of attack is nothing compared to your fear of love. You would be willing to look even upon your savage wish to kill God’s Son, if you did not believe that it saves you from love. For this wish caused the separation, and you have protected it because you do not want the separation healed. You realize that, by removing the dark cloud that obscures it, your love for your Father would impel you to answer His call and leap into Heaven. You believe that attack is salvation because it would prevent you from this. For still deeper than the ego’s foundation, and much stronger than it will ever be, is your intense and burning love of God, and His for you. This is what you really want to hide. – FIP T-13.III.2
Although the FEAR of dropping beneath the white noise fell away, the white noise stayed put even though my surface level thoughts became still. Part of me wasn’t ready to let the white noise layer go. So I simply remained willing to look at this layer with Spirit.
My top 3 lessons learned on this retreat were:
- Part of me is still afraid of Love. And that is OK. I don’t have to TRY to be unafraid. I simply need to continue to be willing to give everything to Spirit. The fear of Love will fall away as I’m ready to let it go.
- I have to OWN that part of me is afraid of Love. If I deny that, I’m letting that fear of Love remain fixed. By owning this and looking at it with Spirit, I’m creating a space for that fear to loosen it’s hold.
- Spending time with Spirit is the BEST way to spend time in this world. Nothing else is as fulfilling. I loved my 9-days of silence. And I loved returning home, Spirit by my side.
To read about my experience on a 5-day retreat and to learn a mindfulness exercise, click HERE.