The need to grow in a vertical plane

Silent Retreat @Won Dharma Centre

When I first heard about the concept of a “silent retreat”, with no talking in meditation, mindfulness, yoga practice and free time, my spontaneous reaction was: “Why would somebody do such a thing?”

Little did I know that years later I would be longing for just that; practicing and meditating in silence while feeling completely supported by a community of like minded people and the guidance of wise experienced teachers.

When I first heard about the concept of a “silent retreat”, with no talking in meditation, mindfulness, yoga practice and free time, my spontaneous reaction was: “Why would somebody do such a thing?”

The moment the taxi dropped me off at the Won Dharma Centre in Claverack, N.Y., I felt the healing energy of the breathtaking landscape instantly in all my systems. Wherever I looked, there were wide juicy fields of grass, rich forests and dozens of different shades of green flattering my eyes. The architecture of their 5 simple buildings fit perfectly into the harmonious forms and colors of nature and made me feel safe and welcomed from the very beginning.

The first evening we had the opportunity to get to know some of the 50 participants and share what brought us to this special retreat. Then, Sarah and Ty Powers, our well respected teachers, guided us safely and carefully into the practice of silence.

Our routine was very simple: get up early, go for long individual walks in nature, gather for several Meditation sessions (in silence or guided), receive Sarah’s insightful teachings in Mindfulness, Yin & Yang Yoga and Buddhism and learning to appreciate the present moment while eating (outstanding healthy food from the Korean chef) or walking around through our peaceful, lonely days.

There are no words to describe how much inner peace and relief I felt each time the deep sound of the Buddhist gong rang and invited us to find stillness and inner connection in the meditation sessions. Sitting on my cushion in the spacious naturally illuminated Buddhist hall, I felt vulnerable yet strong through the presence of all the other participants sitting in their meditation seats around me. Each one of us had our own issues to work with, each one had different demons to face during these days of silence and for sure there was more than one struggling with painful body parts, crazy thoughts and intense emotions making us want to run away and get back to normal life. But we all were committed to this dedicated practice of going inwards, a path that reveals not only joy and peace but also many doubts and old hidden wounds that need to come to the surface to be truly healed.

silent retreat

One of my most important benefits of this week was the incredibly empowering teaching from Sarah Powers. Her experience, wisdom, feminine intuition and nurturing nature gave me new insights as well as confirmed things I have been feeling and practicing recently. She reminded me again of the simple beauty of life, the impermanence of all things, the logic consequences of all our actions and the incredible power of our mind, speech and actions. She and her husband Ty knew exactly through which inner battles we were going and supported us with encouraging words in the appropriate moments. When most of us started to deal with enhanced physical and mental tensions during meditation, she guided the session with the following words: “Tensions are like doorways, showing us in which direction we should go. When there is tension in us, we know that this needs extra attention.”

I realized again how important it is to stay with teachers we trust and that we keep growing with them. Rather than collecting new information here and there and gaining knowledge on a horizontal plane, as happens so often in our modern world, we need to be willing to stay with the same teachers and dig deeper in a vertical plane, so the intellectual knowledge becomes embodied through personal practice and experiences. It’s also important to remember that the deeper we dig, the more vulnerable we get, and we might become scared and discouraged. Ty’s insightful words will stay with me forever: “When you dig deeper, for god’s sake, dig with kindness and compassion!”

silent retreat

Another important and quite unexpected support came from the community of silent participants. Although we were living together without any verbal communication, while eating in silence, practicing yoga and mindfulness in silence, walking over the property in silence, I experienced their presence in a most powerful and comforting way just by sharing daily routine together. There was a deep relief of not having to interact with each other, neither with words or gestures nor in body language. There was no need to explain anything about myself and I didn’t have to listen to anyone’s life story either. I didn ́t feel judged in any moment and I did not judge anybody as I was so deeply absorbed in my own thoughts, feelings and rhythms. I simply assumed everybody else was as well and that the kind of thoughts that normally come up while being in bigger groups did not even appear once.

I am very inspired to continue my daily practice adding to the regular meditation and Yin yoga some powerful clearing pranayama and energizing yang exercises to invite a physical, mental and energetic balance in my life. Sarah’s words are now always with me, while digging deeper in a vertical plane: “It is hard to make others feel safe when we do not trust ourselves”