I am just back from the IMCW Spring Retreat.
It rained for seven days. Every day but the final morning. No doubt the grey skies and downpours helped draw our practice inward and into the quiet.
A lot happens in a week of silent practice.
The first few days are often an internal bog of drowsiness and recognizing how depleted and exhausted we are.
The day starts with a wake up bell at 5:45 for optional yoga and ends at 9:30 after a half hour of sitting and chanting. In between, the day is highly structured. It's spacious, but we flow from event to event: yoga, sit, eat, rest, sit, walk, sit, walk, eat, rest, sit, walk, sit, yoga, sit, walk, eat, rest, sit, walk, listen to a dharma talk, sit and chant, then more rest.
The regularity of each day begins to soothe the nervous system and calm the mind.
"Doing nothing" can be surprisingly tiring. We fall into bed exhausted. As the days pass, though, inevitably we start to feel both a sense of deeper and wider relaxation as well as a greater capacity for concentration.
We notice things we had not noticed before. Sensations inside. The connection between thought and feeling. Moments of feeling tight inside completely tied up in a story give way to wafts of spaciousness - then back again into contraction.
The heart feels buoyed up by the steady presence of fellow practitioners around us. The daily guided compassion meditations touch tender spots. A sob heard in the room reverberates in our hearts.
The unseen, unfelt, undigested content of our lives finds its way to the surface. Some of what arises is incredibly sticky and remains in our awareness for days, cycling back again and again. Some of it arises and effortlessly glides away.
We begin to sense a quiet behind the noise inside. A little more space.
In the final circle when we speak again, I can see the radiance that has been revealed through practice. Eyes are bright and soft. Voices resonate with gratitude and wonder.
For me, as a leader, these days are incredibly full. I lead the movement classes twice a day, do private interviews and prepare an evening talk. I too fall into bed exhausted for much of the week.
If you ever have the opportunity or inclination to take some time on retreat, consider it as one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself.
Not only do you step away from the habits of your current life, but when you step into an environment dedicated to fully supporting you as you explore what it means to be alive and awake in the body, heart and mind, you not only begin to sense what is no longer needed in your life, you return to your worldly life more aware of what is possible.