What is it like? Eight days? Are you really silent for eight whole days? Don't you get bored? What do you do all the time, anyway?
Just try it. Spend a day in solitude, or even part of a day. (Getting away from home is a good idea.) Practice being silent, and notice what happens. From there, try an overnight--a two-day or three-day silent retreat. What works for you? Figure it out.
Yes, it was a full eight days. And, yes, in silence. As I plan and prepare myself for a retreat, I make some promises. I promise to remain faithful to the silence. I'm not strictly strict about that, and no one has to be. In the midst of the silence, if I feel released to check in with Jack, I call him. I may have a brief whispered conversation with someone, or ask a question in the bookstore. (In fact, I made a couple of calls to my daughter to ask her take on some things I was thinking about. Very helpful.) But apart from that, yes, it's important to maintain silence and to hold silence for others as well.
Also, I promise to be open to the spiritual director provided for me, and I expect to follow their suggestions. I've been lucky in this. I've always gotten a good one!
And I promise to listen and pay attention. Listen and pay attention to what I see, who I encounter, what is placed in my hands and my heart and my mind. And to welcome and hold what is given.
I decided that I would bring reading only for the plane--Mark Nepo's Seven Thousand Ways to Listen. Once I arrived, as I said earler, I found Wendell Berry and Jack Kornfield in the retreat house library. Here's a meditation practice from Jack Kornfield that was very helpful for me:
My mind soared reading Teilhard: Once the truth has made its presence felt in a single soul, nothing can ever stop it from invading everything and setting fire to everything. And The secret of the world lies wherever we can discern the transparency of the universe.
I got in some pretty stringent walks, usually once in the morning and again in the afternoon. My "schedule" was flexible. Though meals were offered at regular times, mealtimes were "windows" of about an hour or hour and half, and a variety of snacks, coffee and tea, were available at all times in the dining room. One of the luxuries of a retreat like this is not having to plan or prepare meals for yourself.
I started each day with no real plan (except for coffee!), and moved from one thing to the next at will. I read in my room or in the lounge. I sometimes sat in one of the chapels for long periods of time. I sometimes sat in the lounge and gazed at the fire or out the window. (It's okay to do "nothing.") Sometimes I napped. I participated in the Litugy a couple of times. And I explored books in the libraries: Merton, Marcus Borg's Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, and Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time. And I wrote. I journaled extensively and wrote on the novel.
In a retreat setting with others, you become accustomed to sharing space in silence. You become conscious of other people and their movements, whether over a few hours, a day or two, or a week. They eat at another table in the dining room. They're seated in a overstuffed chair near you in the lounge, reading. You meet in the hallway or on a trail outdoors, and then they vanish for a while. People move in and through space, encountering each other (or not), always in silence, and then they disappear altogether, without your knowing where they came from or where they went. You only know that they have returned to their lives. Once they move on, you may feel a tinge of sadness, and of curiosity. (Sometimes I found myself praying for them.) Evenutally, of course, it becomes your turn to move on.
In a quiet conversation you may learn a person's name and something about their retreat experience. (Sharon was there on a thirty-day retreat.) But you find that you don't have to know what interests them, or whether they hail from Poughkeepsie. You still feel a connection, and create a bond. The bond has to do with being intentional about the same thing.
One afternoon at dusk, as I sat alone for an extended time in the chapel, Rella, the protaganist in my novel, spoke. (I love when this happens!):
Sometimes, I notice, late in the day, his face is cast in shadow. As familiar as his face is to me, I swear at moments like that I can't fully recall what Jesus looks like, even though I know his face is imprinted on my mind.
"Are you hiding on purpose?" I ask.
But the answer is always the same. Silence. It's not a mean silence, like Mama's, though, or a cold one. It's more an "I'm here" silence. Reassuring.
Not that he has never answered my questions. It's just that, for me, the answers usually come through experience, like the fact of Virjama's death. Or through people. I needed grace, and grace came in the form of Chandler, just loving me. I know some people get their answers other ways.
The silence takes up residence within, and I carry what I can of the retreat back into daily life. At the same time, it somehow carries me. It reminds me of the way I wish to be; of how I want to live; of priorities. And it anchors me, too, in that for which I came--a deeper discovery of the Source of my being, and a recalibrating of my heart that once again puts me in touch with my truest self..