Being with Emptiness

Print 4A few days before Christmas, I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to go on a mini retreat here in town and enjoy some silence and spaciousness at a friend’s beautiful home while she traveled.

I like quiet. I like to be alone. I like to be un-plugged. But….do I really? I’d been paying attention recently to my ever-present propensity to fill. To fill myself up with connection, information, electronic media, to-do lists, food, sensation, flavors, ideas… What was this hunger about? Was I ever just quiet, still, doing & wanting nothing – just being with only myself?

This retreat would be an investigation of that question. An experiment. Excitedly, I packed up some clothes, grabbed my journal and just in case I didn’t have enough material to explore (!) I brought one provocative book (The Untethered Soul). I brought no food – just juice. Phone off. No computer. No visitors. No distractions.

And I was confronted.

Now, I’ve done silent retreats before…with Cheri Huber at her monastery and with Adyashanti and Open Gate Sangha. But this was entirely different. Without the energy of others sharing an intention and without a structure (meditation, meals, walks, rest, satsang) I was left with only me. Me. Just sitting there. In that damn chair.

I became very intimate with the desire to quiet some unspecific and immediate discomfort within me. I felt like I was being nagged by my wants & discomforts, until there would be an internal scream! I saw how little tolerance I can have for discomforts – anxiety, hunger, boredom, loneliness, restlessness, body pain, fear and obsessive thoughts. I felt my heart center close and my energy becoming sluggish & blocked. I spent days looking at the addictive power of immediate gratification. I felt all this only because I ceased to numb even the slightest discomfort.

Now, this was a crash course and I’m not sure I’d recommend such an extreme venture into the wilds of being with just your self to others. But I do appreciate the value of conducting small experiments like this, to limit input and to turn our attention back toward ourselves.

This is why we meditate, enjoy silent days at home, spend time journaling and in prayer. This is why it’s important to stop and pause…for just 5 minutes, to look out the window or to look into your heart. In order to be in direct relationship with our selves and to be able to go vertical, whether down deep inside or up and out toward the vastness of all that is, we must first get quiet.


CLICK HERE to enjoy the article “The Joy of Quiet” by Pico Iyer

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