What’s a Silent Retreat like?

Have you ever been on a silent retreat? If not are you tempted but wonder what you would be letting yourself in for?  A couple of months ago I went on one with my brother – believe it or not it was his 60th birthday present from me to him.  Being the type of meat eating guy who finds it hard to go more than 24 (well more like 12) hours without alcohol and who likes life’s little luxuries, a weekend with vegetarian cuisine,  without booze and sharing a bedroom with a stranger was not what he expected when he opened up my birthday present. But then presents are meant to be a surprise aren’t they and what do you get the man who can pretty much buy whatever he wants? A Buddhist silent retreat, that’s what! 

My brother has well with over 20 years’ experience as a Transcendental Meditation practitioner and I knew he was intrigued by other forms of meditation – he just couldn’t be bothered to explore anything new! I had wanted to go on a retreat because the thought of a weekend away from the pressures of work, running a home and parenting sounded attractive but there was something deeper urging me to do this – the desire to discover a greater intimacy with myself. But then of course there was the fear – what would that contact with self bring and also the unknown of what on earth do you do at a retreat? Perfect, then, to share the experience with a dear brother. So, one Friday afternoon in February we trundled down the M5 to Gaia House, near Exeter, Devon. 

If you want to get more of a sense of what we really felt about the retreat take a look at this short video chronicling some of our thoughts before and after the retreat.

As you’ll see my brother wasn’t exactly looking forward to going (particularly as it involved him missing an important football match…). What did we do? Well, not speak for one thing – a real challenge for my bro; meditate in a lovely meditation hall, practice walking meditation outside in the beautiful grounds – I’ve always resisted walking meditations before but some of my main insights that weekend came from them; we also explored some mindful movement and listened to a couple of talks about mindfulness. Then there was lots of sleep, rest and eating in silence as well as helping in the running of Gaia House undertaking some household tasks such as washing up and sweeping leaves. 

The insights I gained have stayed with me …it was painful at times as in the silence I confronted aspects of myself I struggle with and yet it was a profoundly, deeply rewarding experience. I will go on another one; I will most probably be just as anxious but in the quiet I know that there will be a chance to reconnect at a deeper level with my true self. 

If you’re thinking about it, go for it! What’s the worst that can happen? Well watching my brother, it’s sleep through most of the meditations, ‘find’ opportunities to speak, snigger during some of the movement practices, suffer alcohol withdrawal, struggle with lentils & legumes and really appreciate the luxury of being back at home. Alternatively you might just find some peace and contact, in a very real sense, your ‘beingness’.

 If you want a bit of a wry smile then check out the video on YouTube!


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