Monday, August 4, 2008

10 days of silence

When I left for my first Vipasana retreat (insight meditation) last July with Resources for Ecumenical Spirituality -- an experience that combines Christian with Buddhist meditation practices -- I'd pictured a cozy silence where I didn't have to talk and could just moon around being thoughtful. I was sadly but wondrously mistaken. This retreat was not mystic rapture. This retreat was Dark Night of the Soul.

In July of this year I went back, this time with my husband Bill. Rigorous days. Rigorous nights. For 10 days we sat in meditation, walked in meditation and when we weren't sitting, walking or listening, we were moving purposefully -- reaching for doorknobs, putting on one's sandals, eating one's meal -- everything done as consciously and purposefully as possible. We did not read books. We did not write in journals. We kept total silence save during the lectures (1 lecture, 1 practice instruction daily) when we were encouraged to ask questions, or when we were chanting.

I must confess that this year, with my hubby there, I was not as focused as I’d hoped. Instead I worried about my type-A personality husband. Would he survive the first few days? Two other attendees had bolted early on and I learned later that two days into the retreat Bill was ready to high-tail it out of there as well. But he didn’t. He stayed and entered that intense silence with me. He's glad he went but he's not sure he wants to do it again.

There was one other married couple there. They sat together during their silent meals. Bill and I did not sit together. The other retreatants were not even aware that we were married – that’s how hard we tried to walk the Vipasana experience. I’ll write more about our retreat in my next post.

This retreat was offered by Resources for Ecumenical Spirituality -- an organization founded by 2 Carmelite priests and Mary Jo Meadows, an author, clinical psychologist, former professor of religious studies at Mankato State University and a practitioner of meditation for more than 30 years in the Christian, ashtanga yogic, and Theravada Buddhist traditions. For more information on their retreats and workshops, contact them at

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