One year ago, I found myself at Spirit Rock, an insight meditation center, for a silent week-long retreat. The teachings of the Buddha, the practice of insight meditation, and loving-kindness meditation were central to the program I participated in.
On our first day, all participants attended a ceremony and took vows of “noble silence.” Noble silence essentially means that you will not talk to another person for the entire week.
During my week-long retreat, there were no phones, no television, no computer, no newspapers, no billboards, no advertisements on buildings or the grounds, no music, and no conversation with the outside world, i.e., my family. Silence…for a week.
Our days started early, around 5 am, with a gong waking us up. Participants slowly made their way to the meditation hall, a very large wooden octagonal structure that comfortably seats up to 100 people. This octagonal structure was surrounded by windows and one could look out onto the beautiful wooden acres of land.
The days were long, alternating between sitting and walking meditation until 10 pm at night. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were served, all vegan, throughout the day.
Each evening, at 7 pm, a dharma (truth) talk was given by a dharma leader. The wisdom taught by the Buddha and handed down through a long lineage of teachers, was shared with participants. I absolutely enjoyed the dharma talks each evening, as they reminded me of the depth and breadth of Jesus, albeit a different manifestation of Truth embedded within a different culture, and predating “Christianity” by approximately 500 years.
One day, while sitting in the dining hall during lunch, quietly eating, I found myself looking out the window watching the trees dance in the wind. I had become fond of trees at Spirit Rock, realizing that they were indeed living and in their own way, communicated. I think I mean to say that they communicated peace, vitality, movement, groundedness, a sense of eternity, and community.
As I watched the trees, a Buddhist nun, in red-orange robe and shaved head, walked a trail near the base of the trees. This woman literally took my breath away for a moment because she smiled as she walked and she glowed. I’ve never seen anything like it, I mean that she literally walked with a light surrounding her. I wondered to myself if this is what enlightenment looks like.
After meditating for a week, slowing your mind and body down, it is said that one may have “insight.” This, I suppose, is why it’s called insight meditation. I can’t say with certainty that the trees were communicating via an essence that I had previously not noticed, nor that a Buddhist nun was ‘really’ glowing, but I can say that one year later, I have not forgotten how things change in stillness and silence.
Most of us chase through life pursuing goals and planning, busy as bees. I am as guilty as anyone. But something does happen when we take an extended time out, let all of the normal routines and devices go, and learn to sit in silence and enjoy the peace…of ourselves.
It was June, one year ago, that I sat with my Buddhist friends at Spirit Rock and considered how Jesus the Christ might manifest in various wisdom practices and spiritual currents. It was one year ago that I learned to sit with myself and learn that I liked who and what I found there…in the silence.