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healingways


SACRED SILENCE Discover the Benefits of Quiet at a Silent Retreat


by April Thompson


aspect is equally important; being surrounded by people that support your spiritual practice can encourage you on what can be a lonely path.” Silence doesn’t mean being static


and somber or not thinking, counsels David Harshada Wagner, of Ojai, California, whose meditation retreats draw from the Indian mystical traditions of yoga, vedanta and tantra.


“Silence is more than the absence of talking; it’s a powerful energy,” says Wagner. “Silent retreats are the loud- est, as the energy is roaring within. It should be a joyous practice.” Yet retreats aren’t a cakewalk.


I


ndividuals seeking to escape life’s ceaseless distractions, deepen their personal spiritual practice, enhance


well-being and gain fresh perspective, are patronizing silent retreats in rising numbers. “Retreats are a special opportunity


to enter a healing space where your natural energy, insight, intelligence and wisdom can arise,” says Linda Mary Peacock, known as Thanissara, a former Buddhist nun, cofounder of South Africa’s Dharma-giri Hermitage and Outreach and a retreat leader at the Spirit Rock Insight Meditation Center, in Woodacre, California. Sheila Russ, of Richmond, Virginia,


has participated in several retreats with silent components, hosted by spiritual traditions spanning Baptist to Benedic- tine. “People of different faiths all have the same need to reach inside and listen. If we don’t slow down and get quiet, we can’t hear what’s going on with us,” says Russ. “Spending time in contempla- tion is cleansing and freeing; I feel like mentally and spiritually I can breathe.”


Scientific Support Attaining heightened well-being after a retreat may have a neurological basis, according to research from Thomas


44 NA Triangle www.natriangle.com


Jefferson University’s Marcus Institute of Integrative Health, in Philadel- phia. Silent retreats appear to raise the brain’s levels of mood-boosting chemicals, according to Dr. Andrew Newberg, director of research there. Newberg’s team tested the brains


of retreat participants before and one week after an Ignatian-based retreat, finding significant changes in their serotonin and dopamine systems.


“Whether through prayers, walks or meditations, the single-minded ritualistic aspect of retreats seems to predispose the brain for peak spiritual experience,” he observes.


What to Expect Formats vary, but most silent retreats entail extended periods of sitting med- itation or prayer, often alternating with walking meditation or other mindful movement. Some may also entail a work detail, like sweeping the medita- tion hall or helping prepare meals. “Work tasks help bring mindfulness


into everyday life,” says Chas DiCapua, a resident teacher for the Insight Meditation Society’s flagship retreat center in Barre, Massachusetts, who has led silent retreats teaching Buddhist practices for 20 years. “The community


Los Angeles author and mindfulness facilitator Jennifer Howd chronicles the challenges of her first nine-day silent retreat in Joshua Tree, California, in her memoir Sit, Walk, Don’t Talk. Seven retreats later, Howd says that although the journey isn’t always easy, she always gains insights about herself and the nature of the mind.


Choosing a Retreat Retreat leaders caution that while it’s good to jettison expectations and approach the experience with an open mind, choose a retreat that fits individual needs. The level of personal attention at retreats can vary greatly, remarks Thanissara. “Some may host 100 or more people, relying largely on taped instruc- tion without much interaction with group leaders. A small group might be better for a first retreat,” she suggests. Thanissara recommends an upfront


review of instructor credentials and starting with a weekend retreat before embarking on one of longer duration. Regardless of length, retreats aren’t always for everyone. “If you’re going through emotional or psychological difficulties, it’s best to discuss your circumstances with a teacher at the retreat center before deciding to attend. If you’re in therapy, talk with your therapist,” counsels DiCapua.


Everyday Life Afterwards, ease back into the daily routine; don’t rush back into old


Retreat Back to


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