Some of you may remember that several years ago I went on a four day silent retreat and came back raving about how wonderful it was and how everyone should immediately go on a silent retreat themselves. Well, I went again last Thursday through Sunday and I am back once again proclaiming that it’s a must do item on all To-Do lists.
I pondered what I should write about regarding the experience of entering into a silent retreat and what might be helpful information to share. I think the thing that stands out as the most powerful for me during this retreat was the personal journey I went on from the time I arrived Thursday at 5pm until I left Sunday at 11:30am. I will tell you, it was quite the ride.
I originally decided to go on another retreat because, well frankly, I was tired. Yes, even therapists get burning the candle at both ends and we fizzle out just like all other humans. It might even be more embarrassing when a therapist hits the ditch energy wise because we should know better but it happens nonetheless. So I arrived on Thursday late afternoon and during the evening dinner, retreat participants are still allowed to talk and the ladies I sat with were very friendly and very chatty. Both of which I was not feeling at the moment. Ever feel that way? I went on the retreat by myself on purpose. Sure, everyone goes silent after the evening meal on Thursday until lunch on Sunday but I still really needed to be in my own skin so to speak and therefore I went on the retreat without a group of friends. Me, myself and I were it.
Once I made it through the very animated dinner conversation, to which I smiled, nodded a lot and tried to keep my exhausted head down, we all went to the small chapel on the retreat property to start the first of several short discussions that would take place throughout the four days. The chapel was hot, humid and slightly crowded. Add that to my exhaustion and it wasn’t a good combination. Wham!! Full blow anxiety hit me right there and then. What?! I am a therapist, I shouldn’t feel panic attacks! What? I am in CHURCH (well, a small chapel but the same thing) I shouldn’t feel panic! What?! I AM ON RETREAT! I should most definitely not be feeling anxiety. For those of us who know what anxiety and panic attacks feel like, we know what to do when they arrive – unwelcomed. I used all the coping skills I teach clients and sure enough, the wave washed away and the panic was gone. But the disappointment remained. It’s disappointing to realize that our bodies have to shout to get our attention.
After chapel, I made my way to my very small, very simple room that would become my sanctuary for the next few days. I was so revved up from being busy for months straight and the extra adrenaline pumping from the wave of anxiety that I was in no mood to be quiet or just sit and read. Luckily I had packed some technological “contraband” into the retreat in the form a portable DVD player and an Academy Award nominated movie. Snuggled in bed with my headphones (so as to not disturb my other dorm neighbors who were actually being silent) and the movie was really good entertainment. Day one of the retreat in the books and a panic attack added to it.
I awoke on Friday to the sound of the bell being rung outside that is intended to gently awaken the retreat participants. I had slept great and all I wanted to do was eat and sleep, so that’s exactly what I did. I ate breakfast, went back to my room and slept. Got up for lunch and then back for more quality time with my pillow. Got up for dinner and then returned for another great night of sleep. I did attend one of the retreat discussions on Friday but I was still in a sleepy haze so I couldn’t really tell you what was discussed but I am sure it had to do with God and prayer and being silent enough to hear Him. The silent retreat I chose to go to was at Montserrat Jesuit Retreat House. I am not Catholic but the staff said it didn’t matter and I had already attended one there before and knew first hand what a wonderful experience it was going to be. We all were there to get quiet enough to listen again.
With Friday being an eating sleeping blur, I didn’t really get much “accomplished” in the way of praying and mediating as I had hoped but I knew until I was more rested, I probably wouldn’t be hearing much in the way of spiritual things anyways.
Awoke Saturday to the pleasant dinging of the bell and as soon as I opened my eyes, I knew I was more rested. There hadn’t really been anything in particular that had drained my energy, other than the normal grind we all do between work and home and hobbies and friends and family and exercise and getting to a never ending To-Do list and so on. My love of reading after the house is all quiet for the evening probably strongly contributed to the level of exhaustion I felt and that habit was something I realized would have to change post-retreat.
So here came Saturday in all its beauty. I started noticing the birds chirping throughout the property, the small little flowers starting to bloom in the early Spring warming air and I felt more like my normal self. Clear headed and ready to get to the business for which I went on the retreat: gaining new insight and wisdom from getting quiet enough to hear again. Saturday was a beautiful day in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area and I enjoyed every sun shining moment. I spent a considerable amount of time sitting in front of this fountain on the property.
The sound of the water and watching the fish swim was very peaceful and relaxing.
Slowly I began to pray and mediate on some questions I needed answers to and the solutions began to formulate in my mind. This was exactly what I had hoped the silent retreat would provide me. By Saturday at 5pm, I was back in my room and honestly, getting a little bored. I felt more rested, received a few key nuggets of wisdom and was ready to sleep in my own bed at home again. Oh, here, let me share with you what my dorm accommodations looked like:
Nothing fancy, right? Nope. But the dorms do have private baths and you don’t share with a roommate so I was fine. This small space became a cocoon to help me get away from the hustle of every day life. Back to Saturday at 5pm and I was ready to ditch the silent retreat a day early. Luckily I felt too lazy at that moment to pack all my stuff up and make the hour drive home because it was precisely that evening and Sunday morning that my “breakthrough” happened. If I had left early, I would have totally and completely missed the gift that was mine to be received.
Saturday evening and Sunday morning were times of making decision trees. By this I mean that I was rested enough and had prayed enough and read a fantastic book to help me gain new wisdom and I was ready to make a plan. I wrote out a decision tree for several key areas of my life. If this happened, then my next course of action would be that and so on. Saturday night I devoured the book I was reading and was in a ton of gratitude for the insight I was receiving. I slept great that evening too.
I woke up Sunday to the all now familiar bell awakening the participants. I packed to get ready to venture back out into the real world and wham! No, not another panic attack but my first chance to implement one of my new decision tree items. With a course mapped out before me, my decision was already made. I put it into place and knew it was the right thing. Coincidentally (and I don’t think it was a coincidence at all) I had taken with me three silver necklace pendants that were symbolic of something important to me. After the implementation of my first decision tree item, I walked to the end of the pier, said a simple “Thank you and Goodbye” and threw the three pendants into the lake. It was extremely freeing to watch them disappear into the water.
As I finished packing my car of my weekend belongings and drove off the retreat property, I knew I had left something on the campus. Not only was it the three pendants now in Lake Lewisville, but I left behind more than that; I left my tiredness, and anxiety. I gained sleep, peace of mind, implementation of a decision and excitement about the other decision trees I have yet to put into place but plan on as the right season shows itself.
I highly recommend a time of getting away from the noise of life and our own voices. As a quote I saw recently said “Get quiet enough so that you can really listen.” I wholeheartedly agree. Shhhh…..
Five Things I’ve Learned This Week or Was Reminded Of:
1) Anxiety isn’t a sign of a weak mind but rather the nervous system expelling extra stress that wasn’t worked off in the gym or through talking it out. Stress is like a balloon filling with air. The air has to come out or the balloon will pop. The “pop” for humans is often anxiety.
2) Mental exhaustion is worse than physical exhaustion
3) God brings sweet reminders of His presence everyday and hopefully we are not rushing so much that we miss them
4) We should keep doing more of whatever makes us feel happy, relaxed and hopeful
5) Good friends always find their way back to each other, even if a little or a lot of time has passed
What’s on your list?