How’s your retreat going? I once attended a silent 3 day Sufi retreat. Not speaking for 3 days in a row was enough to really scare me. What if I needed something and couldn’t ask for it? What if I got lonely and no one would talk to me? What if I got bored? What if I got anxious and I couldn’t get help? What if I got hungry and there wasn’t enough food?
About 75 people attended, and I remember arriving and silently getting my name tag with my room number. We could whisper to a facilitator if we had the need but besides that, we kept our mouths shut. We were four to a room and I brought in my small suitcase since all I needed were meditation clothes. A friend was there with me and I remember staring at her, feeling forlorn.
On the first day, we gathered in a large meeting room, we sat on cushions on the floor and we listened to Sufi master, Pir Valayat, tell a story about a man who climbed a steep mountain in the snow to find a Rishi (spiritual teacher) who lived in a cave. The man felt inadequate and hoped the Rishi’s teachings would free him from himself. When he finally found him, the weary traveler was wet through and through, freezing cold, and exhausted beyond belief. The rishi was sitting outside his cave in a traditional thin robe with a shoulder bared, calm and serene, his eyes closed, meditating. When he opened his eyes, he said to the man, “You came all the way up this freezing mountain to look in the mirror? If you’re not looking for a teacher, you can stay.”
I loved that story and all the ensuing wisdom over the next few days. I was anything but bored. My back was hurting but it went away. There was plenty of food. When my anxiety rose, it fell away quickly. When I got bored, I looked around and got interested in my fellow attendees. When I wanted to talk to my friend, our eyes met and we smiled. Life had become simplified and my mind was at peace. I was surprised that all of my concerns were put to rest, but the biggest surprise was that the longer I was there, the easier it was to be silent, to listen to the master’s wisdom, and to go deep inside. I thought it would be the other day around. By Day 3, a great calm had come over me. When it was time to speak again, I found that I had nothing to say. I had made friends with myself and there was a part of me that missed the silence.
When I recall the Sufi master, the moral of his story is that everything that you’re feeling and thinking during this mandatory retreat are all reflections of you and your thoughts. The good and the bad. When you get bored or anxious, when you feel frightened or depressed (we all do), hang in there and remember that you have yourself. If you don’t attach stories to your fear, your feelings will change quickly. You are an infinitely interesting person with a creative mind. All you have to do is look inside and see what’s really going on.
Finally, be kind and compassionate with yourself. It isn’t easy to stop the world and you’re doing it. If you’re someone who is always on the go, it will be a challenge, but if it’s hard, it doesn’t mean you’re failing. You’re simply learning about yourself and you’re learning a new way to be. These are huge accomplishments but I know you’re up to the task.