Our Sicilian Adventure
Outline of Timetable
We're in our 8th season here at Serenity Retreat and we are in the very lovely position of having many repeat guests. This year our return rate is 53%. Some of my guests have made an interesting point - they say it's not that they come back hoping that the holiday will be as good as the previous one, it's more that there is a sense of evolving that goes on. For them, for me, for the village - everything evolving! I really like that notion.
So, last year, on the back of our evolving, we had our first taste of Sicily. It's different to Greece because it's more solidly meditation focused and there are 3 days of silence. Some of our guests had said that they were ready for a more structured retreat and so we came up with our Sicilian Adventure. The intention is for you to use this time as you see fit, but with the option of joining in the structure of the week if you chose to. If you don't want to come to all of the meditations etc. you don't need to. The only thing we ask is that you honour the silence when we have it. Last year was a joy. I'm hoping that you'll feel the same about this year :)
Meditation Practice - Who Am I?
This is an opportunity to join us to ask the question: Who Am I? - This is not a compulsory practice though, if you wanted to come for the silence and engage with your own meditation practice, you'd be very welcome. Who Am I? is, however, a great question, and one at the heart of many spiritual traditions. We're not so much interested in the worked out answer - although those will turn up, our minds can't resist it - we're interested in getting under the skin of the question and THEN seeing what comes up. We'll go through the methodology on the first session and we'll happily recap at any point. We'll also have two periods of Zen Yoga each day to support our meditation practice for four days of the week, once again - not obligatory, you can drop in and out of the timetable as you wish. We encourage guests to trust their own body wisdom and to tune in to how they feel and use the structure of the week in the best way to facilitate their own rest, opening, peace and ease.
Sitting quietly, we'll pose the question to ourselves. We'll do some meditation practices to support ourselves physically - using centuries old Taoist and Zen meditations to make sure we feel grounded and rooted. Some of the meditation periods will be guided but not all.
Asking this question is a great way of seeing through areas that we may feel 'stuck' with. It can be fabulous for clearing cobwebs and getting a sense of uncluttering. But also it offers the potential to move out of our traditional ways of looking at the world. We may even feel what we are, rather than theorising about what we are. There are very few times when we get the opportunity to sit quietly and truly look within. This is a nettle well worth grasping!
There will be the opportunity to work with some self compassion practices based on the work of Kristin Neff and Chris Germer. Being hard on ourselves is an epidemic, it would seem. These gentle practices show us how to soften to our own internal voices and to the world at large. The skillful use of self compassion can be a real gift and peace bringer. Highly recommended!
Zen Yoga might also be described as meditation for the body. Our two teachers, Dainei (pronounced die-nay) who's joining us on the 13th October and Emma, who's joining us on the 20th October, have both trained with Daizan Roshi of Zenways and their emphasis is on the union of mind AND body. It's not acrobatic or gymnastic yoga. It's about moving into the spaces that we've been holding on to and learning to make friends with our bodies and with our habitual ways of being and loosening and easing into them.
It seems that more and more people are coming to find value in both silence and stopping. For me it's the only way to truly get a feel for how things really are. And maybe that's not what we think (I mean LITERALLY not what we think). We'll have a period of practice silence on the Sunday morning until after lunch. This gives those who are in any way anxious or who haven't experienced silence an opportunity to ask questions and air anything that may arise before we start our three days. After that we'll be in silence from first thing on Monday morning until first thing on Thursday morning - 3 days. If you need to speak about something I'll be on hand. We will make a commitment not to compromise our and our fellow guests' silence.
Three days is a lovely amount of time to truly engage with silence. We won't leave the premises during this period, other than to go walking locally if we choose. We'll stay around base and get into the feeling of the thing.
If the idea of silence is speaking to you (ha!) then heed the call. Most of the people that I know who have done the silent retreat thing to any degree all felt a bit nervous about it before they did it - that's really normal. It's not a full on Buddhist practice, so if you want to read, write, draw, knit etc while you're in silence then you'll be very welcome. It's your silent time to do with as you please. A bit further below you'll get an idea of our timetable.
What's the Big Deal about Silence?
Someone asked me (Kim) this a few weeks ago. I answered as best I could at the time but thought that it was a great question. Why would we voluntarily become silent? What is the point? Many of us live alone and are silent a lot anyway, why would we choose to expose ourselves to more, when we could have the opportunity to be making new friends and socialising?
I’m pretty sure you all have your own reasons for turning up and entering the silence, so what I’m about to say speaks only for me. Maybe it’ll resonate, maybe not ;)
My friend, Janine, announced she was doing a silent retreat some years ago. I remember being horrified - you can’t speak?! Or read?! Or write?! But I was also at a point when I was questioning a lot of what my mind was telling me. So I turned it around - what was so terrible about not being able to speak or read or write? And it’s then I realised that I was terrified of what might turn up if I was left alone with my own head. I thought that Pandora’s box might be opened, a huge can of worms that I would be unable to put the lid back on. That wasn't my experience. In fact I realised that my fear of looking within was keeping me trapped in all sorts of subtle ways.
During our time together we WILL have the possibility of reading, writing, drawing etc. We welcome this simply because we don’t need to create extra stress for ourselves when we first meet silence. You’re welcome to read and write and draw - but we can be very interested in the moment BEFORE we pick up the book, the journal, the drawing etc. Why do we feel the need to distract ourselves? Is something going on that feels uncomfortable? Can we possibly sit with that feeling and turn our minds towards it? Even for 2 seconds? After we’ve turned towards the feeling that’s going on for us, we may find that we’re quite curious about what’s going on and want to investigate further. Or we may decide that we absolutely DO want to distract ourselves and that’s perfectly fine. The thing is to have some curiosity about the whole thing. We call this ‘friendly curiosity’.
If we decide to investigate the bodily experience, then our intention isn’t to work anything out or get to the bottom of anything or analyse it, although we may have some insights in that direction, our intention is simply to give our bodies the gift of our 100% complete attention in this moment of discomfort or whatever it is that we have going on for us. In the West we have become very used to moving away from discomfort as we’re told over and over again (by the media and society) that we shouldn’t have to experience any unpleasantness and that if we do (and this message can be quite subtle) then we are in some way ‘failing’. This is not true. We are simply living.
But I can tell you that until I’m blue in the face. The only way to see if this is true is to come and find out for yourself....
Timetable During the Silent Days
Nothing is compulsory or obligatory other than committing to and honouring the silence. This will give you an idea of the timetable that you’re welcome to join in with - or not - as you see fit.
|8.30 - 9.30am
||Guided insight meditation
||Self - Guided Meditation
||Walking, Standing and Sitting Meditation
||Free time - writing, walking, sleeping, drawing, painting
||Doing Nothing Meditation
||Self Compassion Practices
||Short Talk from Kim
During the rest of the time we’ll be following a variation of this schedule.
Observations about Silence
"See how nature - trees, flowers, grass - grows in silence; see the stars, the moon, and the sun, how they move in silence" - MOTHER TERESA
"Silence is a profound teacher and a hard taskmaster. Learn her art when it is offered; there is much to hear within her temple!" - LY DE ANGELES
"When you become aware of silence, immediately there is that state of inner still alertness. You are present. You have stepped out of thousands of years of collective human conditioning". - ECKHART TOLLE, Stillness Speaks
“Silence is a source of Great Strength.” - LAO TZU
"Silence is the sleep that nourishes wisdom" - FRANCIS BACON
"Silence is a valuable way to come to truly know ourselves, and in truly knowing ourselves we can heal and finally rest" - KIM :)