December 16, 2009

Silent Retreat: Day 4

It is a golden moment, late afternoon in late October, listening to the fountain in the rose garden at Mission St. Antonio. I came here to celebrate my 43rd birthday by going on a writer's retreat. To my surprise, it was also a silent retreat. The theme was "cultivating lightheartedness" and in our first meeting we each wrote our intentions down on jaunty yellow paper, to be placed in a basket on the altar. I wrote, "I am here to experience the treat in re-treat". And what a treat it was indeed.

In the tarot, 8 of cups symbolizes a time for emotional withdrawal, a time for retreat. A figure is seen entering a cave to spend some time in reflection. Two of the cups (bonding) has spilled - There is a feeling of bitterness. Six of the cups remain upright (compassion) and through the feelings of sisterly or brotherly love, healing can occur.

When I think of retreat I think of all the ways I take care of myself, rejuvenate myself. Going to the sauna, getting massage, acupuncture and chiropractic care, eating organic. But rarely do I take a weekend off, let alone take vacations.

No cell phone, no internet, no housework, no homework, no cats, no garden, no talking. I have loved the not doing: not making conversation, not processing, not sharing. It has been such a relief to retreat into my on thoughts until they become no thoughts at last.

I'm aware of the element of withdrawal - of drawing into myself, choosing what to share. The way my thoughts would peak and subside, my own obsessive thoughts and addictive emotions, how I have suffered in silence for the past years, not revealing my innermost truths to anyone, not even in some ways to myself. I sat and cried on the bench in the moonlight, then had the hottest, longest shower in years. I gained wisdom in a single instant from one line from a poem, three simple words - "Get over it."

Every moment was golden and delicious, from waking up with the wild turkeys to seeing the tarantula basking in the sun. Deep orange pumpkins lined the adobe hallways, turquoise doors offered privacy, relief, safe haven. On the day they served tuna (which I detest) I just ate potato chips and chocolate cake - Hey, it's my birthday. Indeed, I ate cake everyday, more cake than I have probably eaten in four years.

I made friends with two cats - the only time I broke silence. I figure than since on average I make 80-100 phone calls a week and easily spend half my awake time talking (Sun in the third house), I  probably spend about six hours a day talking, 360 minutes! Here, I've maybe spoken at most for 2 minutes at a time during workshops, maybe 10 minutes all day.

I'm curious as to how I will carry this practice into my daily life over the next few weeks and months. Maybe I'll appreciate being alone more. I notice that lately I don't really like to go out much, and how much I appreciate my quiet housemate. I realize I'm tired on the weekends, and enjoy the silence around the house, notice I'm not playing much music in the car.

I spend the other half of my day listening - to my clients, to my kid, to my inner voices. It's been nice to listen to the fountain, the birds, the murmur of prayers, the scratch of a pen. I've thought about having the kanji tag for silence as a tattoo, but like patience, discover it is something that I already have, deep within me. It's refreshing to not have a explain myself, or to comment on someone else's experiences.

The sun has moved while I have been writing, and I scootch further down the bench - time has passed in a delightful way. Much to my surprise, I have used my laptop only as a clock, choosing to write and sketch in my journals more than type as usual. Of course, then I can sit in the courtyard, rather than isolating myself in my little mission cell.

Our rooms are tiny and I pushed the twin beds together in order to squeeze in a desk and chair. I set a red scarf on the deep windowsill, arranging pomegranates, apples, a banana and some clementines. I hung my blue embroidered bag that holds my tarot cards in place of the wood crucifix, and draped the desk with a deep green shawl covered in blood red roses. My room was simple and complete, tidy and organized, and very, very, pretty.

I slept twelve hours the first night, ten the next. I'd wake before dawn and walk out to greet the sunrise. Interestingly, the soldiers at Fort Hunter Liggett, which surrounds the Mission, were also up, shouting out their marches before the day's artillery practice, which made for an ironic auditory backdrop for a silent retreat.

The bats come out at sunset, swooping through the cloisters to catch the mosquitoes. The two mission cats, both long haired Persians, one jet black, the other with Siamese markings, make friends with each of us, sitting on laps and purring loudly. They are fierce hunters, evidenced by blue jay feathers littering the rose garden paths.

This morning I got up predawn and packed the car in the deep blue shadows. The sun was just barely rising, Venus shining in her brilliance as I walked along the road. I balanced myself on the stones that bordered each side, like any kid would do, reminding my of climbing the cliffs when I went to boarding school in Dover. It took focus and concentration, as the small boulders shifted under my feet. I suddenly heard a yelp, and saw a coyote not far from me. After a few more short yips, it started howling - soon to be joined by not just one or two, but a whole pack. I froze on the road, trying to judge the distance back to the mission, when I spied a small rabbit, also frozen. I noticed it's big ears and wide eyes, at the same time hearing the crunch of footsteps behind me. With that, the coyotes bounded off, leaving me to contemplate my next step in silence...