Friday, January 16, 2015

A Cathedral in Time: Practical Silence Retreat For Urban Folk

Today is the 16th of the 18-day silence I’d mentioned in the 2014 review. I’m enjoying it thoroughly and it seems worth sharing the motivation, structure and benefits realized from it. Why 18? That’s just how long I could take off. More or less, suit yourself.

While I had many choices of places to retreat, both local and at exotic locales, I chose to spend this time in silence at home. There are benefits to retreating to a mountaintop or an ashram to be in silence. But I consider this lifestyle as one of an ‘Urban Yogi’ and I feel true practice is when it’s done exactly where you are. Abraham Joshua Heschel, a Jewish theologian, suggested going to “a cathedral in time rather than in space”. That is, create a Sabbath from the clutter of ‘doing’ rather can mechanically making trips to an ashram, temple, a country home or an island resort.

Doing a silence retreat at home requires more discipline than in a curated environment, but there are some tangible benefits. Here are a few:
  • I’ve spoken to many people who have been on 10-day silence retreats. They have a great experience and come back rejuvenated. But they say that experience comes to an abrupt halt when ‘real life’ hits them. They find it hard to keep the practice and have to wait till the next opportunity to get away to be in that silence.
  • The last time I did this urban silence thing, people at home commented on how powerful the atmosphere had become during that time. So, this is not just for the do-er, but everyone around reaps the rewards.
  • There are no long wait lists or expenses to go on a silence retreat.

Now, what does this urban silence retreat look like? 

Here’s what my day looks like for the 18-day silence:

The Do’s:
  • Meditation – Four hours per day. Most of it is done sitting, while some part is movement. The breakdown for your reference - I wake up at 3:45am and sit for 1 hour from 4 – 5am. Then I shower and sit with a spiritual study group 30-minutes before and after we read the ‘Murli’. Mid-day sit is from 12 – 12:30pm and in the evening from 6:30 – 7:30pm. I do some form of movement meditation for 30-60 minutes in the afternoon.
  • Reading – This is an important bit. My practice is wisdom based.  Notice I said study group (and Murli) above. One needs powerful ideas to hold the mind in stillness for extended periods of time. I also caught up on the inspiring literature that I collected over the past several months.
  • Writing – articles, meditations, epiphanies, etc. You’ll be amazed at the stuff that comes ‘through’ you.
  • Movement meditation - something the body can be engaged in autopilot mode, while the mind is free, like walking, biking and swimming.
  • Journaling  - Great way to track personal integrity on all fronts.
  • Work – I allocated a couple of times a day for checking messages and responding only if it is a critical issue. No, this is not cheating. It’s what makes it practical and creates the habit of having clear boundaries for ‘doing’.

The Don’ts:
  • No talking (obviously, so keep a notebook in case you need to say something)
  • No TV (easy, I haven’t had one in 15 years)
  • No news (big time saver)
  • No aimless surfing the web (it’s OK to lookup something specific though)
  • No social media (may be the hardest, but probably the most rewarding)
  • No shopping for a Christmas or a wedding, etc. (choices ruffle inner stillness)
  • The phone stays turned off

So, 16 days in, I’m pretty blissed in silence. Enough said, but if you come from a world of metrics and data like I did, here’s the bottom line:
  • Being Quiet and Letting Go - The practice of holding back in situations when every cell of the body is urging me to get up and say something, because that’s what I’ve been used to doing all my life - to react. Staying quiet prevents any escalation of tension, thus sustaining the peace. This accomplishment alone is worth the exercise. The rest of this list is a bonus.
  • Clarity of Purpose – I have peeled off some layers of ‘emotional scabs’ and have a better view of what am I here to do on this earth.
  • I identified some of demons that drive me into ‘doing’. Everyone is being driven by his or her personal demons. I’ll do a write up on this next week.
  • I see how much I’ve been blessed with. It takes stillness to see this.
  • There is nothing really to ‘get’ or ‘achieve’ out there.
  • Everything can be done with more love and gentleness.
So, there you are, a complete D-I-Y package for a Silence Retreat for any time you really need a get-away without having to go anywhere. Let me know if you give it a try, I’d like to know how it went.

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