Meg enters her annual winter retreat, January-March 2016
Meg is entering her sixth year of retreat at Gampo Abbey. Amidst wild weather, deep snows and moose visitors, she lives comfortably for nine weeks in her own retreat cabin in silence, totally on her own, meditating, studying, and contemplating, speaking to no one except for occasional conversations with her teacher Pema Chödrön.
I have come to rely on these long periods of silence and solitude for many things. First is the joy of rediscovering my undistracted mind! Without the day-to-day interruptions of phone, email, Internet work and family, my mind comes alive again. I can read for hours, remember what I’ve read, make connections, delve deeply into complex issues and envision many things. All of these faculties disappear when I reenter the world, so for me it’s proof positive of how many of our great human capacities we lose in our rushed and distracted lives.
Retreatants are strongly encouraged not to write or journal; whenever we write something down, we’re solidifying our experience into a storyline. If you don’t write about it, the experience changes and never settles into just one interpretation. I love these times when I know not to write, or even think about things, just letting thoughts come and go. Of course this is not easy, but I find it very liberating and quite relaxing. And once I’m back in the world with a settled mind, good plans and ideas emerge that I can put into practice.
My ultimate purpose of long retreat is to settle and know my mind so that when I’m out in the world I can maintain a peaceful presence and am less triggered or defended. I want to be in the places where people are trying their best to persevere in situations of fear, stress, disrespect and oppression. This can be an Aboriginal village, a church group, a large government agency or a corporation. I want to support good people and good leaders to step forward as Warriors for the Human Spirit, people who refrain from using aggression and fear to accomplish their ends, and who act as champions for our best human capacities. For me to support these brave ones requires the stability of my own mind– this is what I’m developing from long retreats. (I can always tell I’m losing that stability by year’s end as I become more impatient, critical, and overwhelmed by world events. My adult children are the first to notice and comment that I need to go back into retreat!)
Several years ago I wrote an essay on why I chose to become a Buddhist. If you’re interested in that, you can read it here:
The value and purpose of these retreats is beautifully explained by Pema in her interview with Bill Moyers many years ago.