Thursday, November 01, 2007

Rebel With or Without a Cause?

It was one of the best retreats I've attended here in the PNWD. It was rather mysteriously described in the registration materials---"a look at contemplative spiritual practice" is how I think it was portrayed. Or some such.

In any case, for our first session, Monday evening, we were surprised by the presenter's saying (get that, saying?) A LOT about silence and how important it was, setting me (and probably others) up for bigtime resistance to his efforts. He must have talked non-stop for half an hour and then said "get comfortable, we're going to meditate for a half hour or more in silence". Hooray, he's going to shut up! And then he said "when we leave this room, we will go back to our rooms in silence, spend the rest of the evening in silence, and in the morning, we will return to this room at 7 a.m., do Qi Gong in silence and have a silent breakfast."

Huh? Did I sign up for this? I have plenty of silence and solitude in my life! I come here for companionship and support from my colleagues, not to be separated from them by silence! Okay, maybe some of THEM need solitude and silence, but is that fair to me? I didn't sign up for this!

I sat and squirmed during the silent meditation, uncomfortable on the floor where I'd chosen to sit instead of a chair, plotting how to get out of the rest of the retreat. The problem was I couldn't think what else I would do. I hadn't paid big bucks for the retreat to go shopping in suburban Seattle or visit the nearby park. I had a few books along but didn't relish sitting still and reading them; I had brought them to put myself to sleep with.

When he released us to leave, it wasn't even 8:30 p.m. and one person asked plaintively "but what about evening worship?", receiving the unspoken reply that "this is worship". We or maybe it was just I who sulked off to my room upset by the sudden shift in the expectations of our retreat.

Alone in my room in silence, I decided that the next morning I would NOT go to the Qi Gong session but would do my normal retreat-morning routine of getting a cup of coffee in the dining room about 7, writing in my journal for awhile, reading the paper and checking email, and appearing at 8 a.m. breakfast. I'd give the morning worship and session a try, but if it didn't work for me, I was booking it out of there, off to the delights of the nearby outlet center.

At worship, the leader said, "our service this morning will be in Quaker style, with those who are moved to speak doing so out of the fullness of their hearts." And unexpectedly it all began to work for me, because as people spoke into the quiet room, I felt connected with my colleagues in deeper ways than usual, listening to them and speaking my own truth. Despite the difference from our own carefully constructed collegial worship services, this open-ended flow of silence and spontaneous speech and song was the most refreshing communal worship I have experienced in awhile.

I ended up attending every minute of every program session that day and delighting in opportunities to sit outdoors in the crisp fall air, under trees, in the sun and fog, reflecting on my place in the natural world, looking for what the earth has to teach me, the answers to my questions about life's meanings.

I am glad to be home again but the memories of this retreat, with my initial resistance appearing comic in retrospect, will stay with me for a long time. The retreat was significant as well, in that many others had experienced the same resistance I had, had been drawn in by the silent peace of the worship experience, and stayed to reap the same benefits I had.

7 comments:

Lizard Eater said...

This was a joy to read. In the new year, I am going to be trying something new -- taking our Joys and Sorrows out of the church service, and doing it in a Quaker style manner a half hour before the regular service. Your experience makes me think that it just ... might ... work.

ms. kitty said...

I hope you will let me know how it goes, LE. I am interested in bringing more silence into our worship as well. Thanks for the note.

Anonymous said...

Practicing Buddhism involves much silence, active, deepening silence and in the presence of others in our Sangha, it is particularly meaningful. Our discussion following our silent meditation seem to be like no other qualitatively. Easier for me as a Pisces. Wicked on talkative Geminis! Great hearing about your retreat. Maine BU-UU.

Earthbound Spirit said...

Thanks for this Ms. Kitty - Now I'm looking forward to a one day silent retreat this weekend even more! Seminary and all the attendant traveling, studying, writing, etc. has nearly eliminated my meditation practice. The meditation group at church, led by a Buddhist friend/lay order member, is sponsoring a day of mindfulness this Saturday - and wow, do I need it!

Mile High Pixie said...

COOL!!! I love the idea of Quaker-style, which I've never heard much about. Speaking only if/when led sounds good, especially if preceded by some meditative silence. You, Rev. Kit, may not need lots and lots of silence, but I bet it's a relief to hear meaningful speech, meaningful, useful words. Perhaps that's society's problem right now--it's not that we need silence, per se, but just more meaningful words passing through the atmosphere. Great post!

hafidha sofia said...

I think one of my young adult friends attended that retreat. She practices aspects of Buddhism, and really enjoyed it.

ms. kitty said...

Hafidha, there were several young Portland ministers at our retreat. How neat that one of them is your good friend! I like them very much.