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Reflections on Winter 2016 Retreat, by Anda Peterson

01 Mar 2016 2:22 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

As soon as I entered the retreat center, I knew I this would be, for an introvert like myself a dream come true: in the company of others but not required to engage in small talk. Although it was the first retreat I had ever been to, I felt at ease. From the first silent moments, a companionable silence between my fellow participants. I was almost disappointed by the lack of challenge silence might present me. Perhaps the real challenge to my quiet nature would be a Constant Conversation Retreat. Such extreme discomfort would be like being whacked by a Zen masters stick daily and maybe I would be slapped into enlightenment.

The retreat  took place over four days at the Franciscan Center in Tampa, a modest, no frills place of 1950s boxy architecture, but spacious enough for the forty-two of us and right on the banks of the Hillsborough River. Across the river in the distance the Golden Arches reminded us of our proximity to the never silent city, but the park-like grounds created a peaceful oasis.

Our days at the retreat began at 6:00 AM by the person in charge of waking us hitting a gong that sounded like a metal plate being struck. I am not much of a morning person and unmindfully rushed to dress so that I could guzzle as much coffee as possible before meditation at 6:30. In the dining hall, coffee clutched like a lifeline, I took a seat with a few others as we watched the full moon shining into the river. Calmed immediately by the glow of moon and water I felt grateful to be up early enough to bask in this serenity, made all the more precious by our silent observance.

After the 6:30 half hour group sitting meditation and ten-minute group walking mediation, we engaged in our individual walking meditation outdoors. Silent and slow were the unspoken guidelines. Setting one foot in front of the other became significant. The shells on the walkway crunched under foot, and pressed lightly into the rubber of my shoes sole. Other walkers seemed to float past me. Outside and inside, our movements around each other took on a ballet like quality. Edges softened and when we had to make way for another in the hallways with each move to the side we emanated gentleness, kindness even.

Here is what I took away from the four days of silence and mindfulness:

How to put the right amount of food on my plate. At the first breakfast I filled my plate but eating mindfully and without distractions, I soon realized I could not finish this amount of food. I didnt need to eat with my usual greediness. Slowed eating tells me when I am full.

Mindfully walking reveals the world around me. The pace makes room for contemplation of a tree branch winding to the ground, the light playing on the water, the energy of my mind drawn to more focus, less scattershot.

Most talking is not necessary. And I did not miss my cell phone or computer or even something to read. The ego likes to talk a lot more than my Buddha nature.

Also, I gained:


A greater understanding of ducks.

The ducks and I woke, sat, walked and ate. We co-existed and I felt like their kin. One seemed to follow me for a bit on my walk. Being a duck and being a human is not so different when the minds endless litany of desires, demands and preferences are set aside. If the world appreciated more being than doing, perhaps I could have dipped a cup into the Hillsborough River for a drink.

A better handle on my thoughts.

Thoughts do not have no substance I had given them. As soon as one arises, it disappears. My mind makes thoughts, but something else, my awareness remains steady as the thoughts come and go. I can choose to follow them or not.

A deeper experience of space.

With our preoccupation with solid objects like bodies, cars, guns and high-end real estate, we do not notice the spaciousness of life. To find space we must remove the paint from the canvas. The mind rebels at this; it needs to fill space with images and words. Mindful investigation shows us how space is the substance we dwell within and without. Space surrounds and fills bodies, rocks, ducks. Space holds us, like an embrace.

A deeper experience of silence.

Silence and space are inseparable, perhaps they are the same thing. Both serve to heighten awareness.  Sitting in the meditation hall  the stillness is like the  river on this windless day; we sense the energy of our own bodies and those near us, the current still runs underneath the flat surface. Each small movement of a foot, each small sound like a cough is like a stone tossed into the water. My shoulders and back stiffen against this submersion in this deep silence because my habit is mindless movement and nervous fidgeting. This silent stillness reveals each habit.

An insight.

Space and silence are changeless as nothing else is. Words and actions change each moment, float around space and drop into oblivion. We fill the canvas with images, fill the air with words, but nothing is lasting but space and silence. We know this, but see no point in it, devalue it. And yetWe yearn for both. Even when we do not know it.

What then is most nourishing, most natural? What calls us, what is oddly familiar and like home when we stop, awake, aware? If what is real is only what is changeless, what is really true about the ducks and us?


  • 04 Mar 2016 9:13 AM | Anonymous member
    Oops...I noticed a couple of glitches in my writing that I should have corrected. My apologies!
    Link  •  Reply
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