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Silence as Self-Love

Silence as Self-Love

Open Pandora’s Box to Pursue Soul Healing

by Nicole Miale

The word retreat by definition means “an act of moving back or withdrawing.” In a time of hyper-stimulation in the face of technology and ever-pressing demands, a retreat has come to mean time away from the stresses and concerns of everyday life. The term, once exemplified by a fleeing army, now stands for a refresh of the body, mind and spirit. People go on retreat for many reasons and the form varies based on the individual’s specific needs and personal spiritual practice. Whether someone is seeking deeper meaning in their life, needs time for reflection, desires healing or simply wants to get away from the demands of daily life for an hour, the modern definition of a retreat is an act of loving self-care.

“I wanted space and silence,” explains Cathy Whelehan, owner of Open Sky Yoga Barn in Redding, of her week-long silent retreat this summer in Maine. “I needed to be being, not doing. For me, this time was about deep rest, spiritual rest. And I felt like my life depended on me doing it.”

Whelehan had done silent retreats before, but always in a group setting with a teacher and surrounding company. This time she desired complete solitude. With three teens and two businesses at home left in the supportive hands of her husband, Whelehan found a cabin on Sand Pond in Maine and booked it for a week in mid-July. It was a two room space, with electricity and an outhouse but no running water. Her phone and computer left in the car, she was isolated by choice on the picturesque shore of a small lake.

“My expectation based on previous experience with even just vacation was that it would take me a couple days to really unplug,” she muses. “But that didn’t happen. I got out of the car and felt myself just drop right in. I dropped right into love. And all these weeks later, I still feel it. There was nothing else there, just me and Source. That’s it.”

Urgyan Zangpo, a Western Buddhist lama in the Vajrayana tradition, has dedicated decades of study and practice to his spiritual work. His path included a four-year retreat alone in the Canadian Yukon Territory, which he says was one the best and most transformative things he ever did in his life. “Silence helps us encourage our felt wonder, enthrallment, attunement, holistic awareness and illumination,” he explains. “We’re on autopilot so much in daily life. Quieting the body, speech and mind allows the awakening of more luminous qualities covered up by the noisiness of modern society.”

Whelehan agrees, “There is a sacred silence available to all of us all of the time. And yet we fill it with chatter.” During her week in Maine, Whelehan experienced a deep shift and was left with a persistent feeling of love. “We don’t really understand the gift of our Self because we so rarely have the opportunity to just be with ourselves,” she says. “I fell in love with myself in such a deep way. I felt deep, abiding love, but also such clarity of mind and body.”

Part of the experience is the simple reality that there is no one else to bounce off; all feelings are self-generated without the potential for being triggered by a loved one or colleague. Releasing habitual patterns helps let go of a portion of the unconscious burden so many of us carry.

The journey to silence is not to be undertaken lightly, Urgyan says, and especially in the case of a longer retreat, highs and lows of experience are to be expected. “If you’re really committed, you’re going to uncover things which may be difficult to deal with,” he says. “When you take the lid off Pandora’s box, you don’t know what will come out… The silence is just bearing witness to the internal shifts which may occur.”

Whelehan says the essence of spiritual practice is dying a little, then being born again, because in the process, one is forever changed. This can often lead to difficulty in “re-entry” for someone emerging from retreat. Planning for the integration process is important to smoothly navigate the transition from silent wonder back into the real world, whether your retreat is an hour or a year. “You come out differently,” Urgyan explains. “You are still of the world and you see the same one everyone else sees, but you’re seeing with new eyes because you have now changed.”

Nicole Miale is Publisher of Natural Awakenings Fairfield County/Housatonic Valley, CT and Greater Hartford/Tolland Counties. Connect at
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