I know a few people have been wondering about what going on silent retreat was like. To give it some flavour I decided to share my experience. But first, fair warning. If you are someone who doesn’t like ‘fluffy stuff’ you may not want to keep reading… but then again you may also then miss what I’ve found to be the most purely practical thing possible.
Since my youth I’ve been interested in existential questions like is this world just a dream? And if it’s a dream, is it my dream that everyone is a part of or am I part of someone else’s dream along with everything else? Over the years I had fun conversations with my friends, dipped into things like physics, philosophy, raiki, and buddhism but nothing seemed to stick. Then early in 2007 I was staying with a good friend and we got into this favourite conversation of mine with him and his partner. Over the next two evenings his partner asked me some deeply simple questions and shared some recordings from Adyashanti and a book by “Jed McKenna”. On my way home that next night I was reading the book when right in between two words something in me awoke.
I felt the answer in those early questions in every part of me. In fact, every question I’d ever had was over. I look around and giggled. It was surreal. Everything I was seeing was a dream, an illusion and at the same time I ‘knew’ it to be the same thing. It, everything, was complete.
The next days and weeks were odd. Words seemed somehow foreign and it was impossible to articulate what I was experiencing. I would wake up in the mornings and have no inclination to either get out of bed or to stay in bed. There was no will. I had another chat with my friends, one of whom had had a similar experience, and they warned me that what had awoke would ‘fall back asleep’ and suggested that at some point it might be good to go see Adyashanti. I had no care or desire for either. Sure enough though, while I never ‘forgot’ what awoke, sometime shortly after I did snuggle back up into the dream and in October of last year I signed up to see Adyashanti. It took 3 years to play out but at the end of March this year I participated in my first silent retreat.
The basic structure of retreat is about being silent together. It is in silence that what awoke in me exists – like in the gap between the two words of the book I was reading. The format for the day is a series of five 40 minute silent sitting sessions and two 2 hour long talks by Adyashanti. During the talks people are invited to ask Adya questions but beyond that we are silent – no talking, no gestures, no reading.
Going in I thought this would be hard. I like talking and I love ranting. But I was also looking forward to it because I like being alone, not feeling like I have to talk or respond to anyone else. As the retreat set in I found the silence enjoyable, sometimes awkward, but not difficult. I began seeing through some patterns in my life and by the 3rd night what was to come of this was showing up.
My mind is not quiet. Silent sitting is not a silent experience for me. Not at all. Through it though, I actually began to see how much energy I put into building up beliefs, beliefs of how things are and of who I am. Beliefs that give meaning to my life and what I do. Beliefs that give me things to fight, change, and be. Beliefs that I use to validate and to demean myself – or rather the identity I’ve built up of myself. And there in lies the joke. None of it is real. I build these beliefs and then I do battle with them or use them as a reason to do battle with what is. It’s ridiculous. And it’s addictive.
If I’m honest I can easily say that at least half, probably more like 90-99% of my energy, my mind goes into building and battling with beliefs. So what would I be if I let those beliefs go? What would I do? What would I know? Scary questions, because they flirt with idea of being absolutely ordinary, or existentially, nothing at all. Or at least that’s how we understand it with our minds. The answer is more likely however that I would simply do whatever the moment called for, in ways that responded to what’s really real and in ways not limited by my beliefs. Worst case? I stop feeding the insanity of the world we find ourselves in. I stop my own bullshit. In either case, what could be more purely, powerfully practical than that. For the life of me I can’t imagine a thing.
And so I find myself building a bonfire of beliefs. Watching life as it moves. Looking for my beliefs at play and offering them as fuel for the bonfire to burn up the bullshit that consumes my life, asking instead to rest in reality as it unfolds.
What’s next? Who knows. Probably more of the same of what my life has been, just with less bullshit in the gaps in-between.
Now if you read through to here and have questions feel free to ask away. Don’t want to identify yourself? No problem, do it anonymously. And if I get around to it, I might also share any questions and responses that come up from in person conversations. Or I may not. We’ll see. Here’s to letting reality be what it is.