How a silent retreat led to my divorce….
Silence isn't something we do or take, rather a space within where we integrate and embody our spiritual practice. The purpose of a silent retreat is to withdraw from the beguiling seductiveness of the outer world, step outside our habitual patterns of behavior and thinking (borne from societal and family conditioning) so that we may re-center and reconnect to who we really are and then return to the world with a new clarity and purpose.
The opportunity to retreat into a week’s silence is something I’ve been calling for a while. To set aside time to completely relax, time for the linear mind to quiet and the ego defenses to melt away, presence to integrate the shadow work I’ve been doing with my mentor. What aspects of myself would I meet? What old stories, what old information would be ready to be released and so that I could welcome in space and open to the next chapter of my awakening …..
A precious undertaking with other seekers of self-knowledge and truth, each taking the next step in their journey, our odyssey lovingly held in the realm of silence and meditation expertly guided by two wise women who have been on this path their whole lives! A retreat steeped in Yoga, with just a sprinkling of asana to keep us comfortable during meditation.
A wall of fatigue was my first encounter. Living to the demands and schedules of others means living on borrowed time, the noise and busyness of life is a constant challenge to our ability to be present and in my case, always being “on-call” had robbed me of the opportunity of experiencing and being in my deeper self. All of this had left me feeling depleted, so when I finally stopped, the tiredness caught up with me.
It took me the first two(ish) days of the retreat to work through this fatigue because I was resisting it ! Our teachers encouraged us to relax and be compassionate to ourselves, to rest when needed, yet fear of missing one second of the process kept me efforting and resisting the fatigue. When I finally let go, had a nap, cleared the fatigue, I was catapulted deeper into my inner landscape. So much of our energy goes into resisting what is and the minute we stop struggling and efforting against that, energy returns to us for our own self-healing and rejuvenation.
How wonderful to experience a large group of beings communing without the use of language. In silence, other senses become heightened and we connect to others at a very deep level. Sensing what others need by being still and present. Being in a large group, feeling a deep compassion and intimacy for each being, as we peacefully went about our tasks, helping to prepare the meals in the kitchen, weeding the garden, practicing asana or sitting to meditate, no words, just space, space to be and breathe.
On the third day of the retreat I awoke to find sadness had arrived, an old deep deep melancholy sadness. Outwardly nothing had changed, inwardly the defenses had softened, relaxed and this old emotion sitting just beneath the surface arose, asking to be processed and healed. I knew this particular sadness, I had done work with it before but had only ever managed to circle around the wound that had created it.
How wonderful to have this opportunity, to be able to keep calling myself back in and to stay with this emotion, this energy that was present and fluctuating within me, asking to be felt, to be heard, so that is could express itself and be transmuted. It’s much harder to do this in our daily lives because we often have to put such experiences on the back burner and just keep going with our day, we put on a mask, we put on a smile, we give our awareness to the multitude of tasks and details of our lives.
That energy in motion stayed with me for a day and half. I was working in the garden, weeding morning glory. If you don’t know morning glory, it has long tendrils that snake and eventually crowd out, blanket and smother other plants. How appropriate!!! It is very much these deep unattended to emotions that when left will slowly begin to smother the joy, the love and serenity that is our true nature.
I stayed with what I felt, the tendrils had wound themselves around an old story from my early childhood. Breath by breath, moment by moment, I teased away the tendrils of memory and was left with a deep sense of peace, the old story had been set free, it no longer defined me and a healing had occurred.
I spent the rest of the retreat in a state of absolute contentment and deep peace. I really don’t remember a time ever where I’ve experienced such lightness in my being….I guess I must have, even if just in utero. Please allow me to make a distinction here, this was not a happiness as what we experience in our daily life, a happiness sourced from outside of ourselves (from the love we receive from family and friends, the delight and wonder in watching the sunset, or the warmth and goodness from our favourite cup of tea and a kitten purring on our lap). This was something completely different, this deep serenity came from inside of me and if I was to be suddenly stripped naked by life, if I was to have everything taken away from me, this serenity would still be within me.Words cannot do justice to this experience. Spirit cannot be understood intellectually, this ecstacy of being can only be felt and understood intuitively…an exquisite metamorphosis…
A silent retreat offers a metamorphosis. When we enter the chrysalis we release everything. The retreat is a powerful container in which to embody the teachings and lessons at a level that can only be achieved through focused exploration of heart and mind. When we step back into the world we consciously choose how to emerge in a new way….we enter as caterpillars and re-birth as butterflies having taken the next step in our transformation.
One of the most important components of a silent retreat is the re-entry into the world we normally live in and learning how to walk our talk by embodying the truths we experienced.Although grateful for the opportunity I could no longer pretend that my day job fulfilled me. The way we spend our days is the way we live our lives and I could no longer spend my days with thousands of minute tasks it takes to manage someone else's business in exchange for the opaque promise of a better, more secure future…..I couldn't do it any longer, every phone call , every email took me that little further away from my new found happiness and every fibre in my being called for course correction.
I sat with this for just over a week, watching the fluctuations of mind…what an incredible instrument our mind is…the intellect can rationalize and justify anything but some decisions cannot be made with the ego, some decisions can only come from a deeper well on knowledge inside of us. My conditioning said stay, don’t make yourself vulnerable, the heart said dive deep into the waters of LIFE and live the journey that is written for you in the cosmos.Yoga teaches that no dharma (truth) contradicts another. There comes a point in your path where it becomes painful to live by anything but the highest intention.
So I got a divorce, I stood on the edge of the cliff and stepped into the unknown…..I’ve been in this space before, the transition, the flux and it has never been comfortable for me, I’ve experienced tension in the place of not knowing…wanting and needing to be at the next thing. Previously I’ve filled this space with the growing the external, finding a better job, with better pay and conditions, enrolling in more study or signing up for the next workshop for personal growth.
On my mat, I’ve learnt that transitions have just as much to offer us as the poses themselves. The practice has taught me to move slowly in the transitions, to feel everything on the way, so that when I arrive into the pose (or the next thing) I arrive already aligned, I arrive with presence and awareness, ready to embrace and inhabit the new shape. This is where I find myself now, moving slowly and thoughtfully, not looking to fill the space wanting only to fulfil and serve my highest potential.
I’m a different woman now, I’m stepping from a place of contentment, I am enough, I have enough, taking delight in the space and clarity, trusting, appreciative and confident that the next step has nothing to do with adding to the external reality. The next part of the journey is in reentering the world with a fresh and spiritually transformed perspective, to integrate all of the lessons ,all of the teachings, growing myself, growing others and growing yoga…..this is the way of the yogini.