Away to A Quiet Place

I’ve been on retreat, sitting with that strange and wonderful stillness. Before I return, body and soul, to the world, I’d like to know whether and how you do a retreat. Please let me know.

Mine is the Jesuit Retreat Center of Los Altos. This is my fourth year there. Over time the following routine has evolved:  Begin the day at 4 am (easy, because I fell into bed at 8 pm the evening before), turn on the bedside lamp in my little room, adjust my glasses, give thanks for this treasure of a day, and jot down the details of the dream that popped up upon awakening: Aging woman held by gang of adolescent boys!  Shoe clerk breaks sales record!  Heroine’s levitation power fails during confrontation with Nazi! Yes, read all about it!

Next, brush teeth, make bed, and dress while residual feelings from dream linger. 4:45 am: first meditation and prayer of the day either in the chapel, which is beautiful but occasionally cold, or sit at the desk in my room with tea until sunrise when I open the curtains to a view of the Santa Clara Valley. Breakfast in a sunny dining room at 8 am, meet with spiritual director at 9 am, and free fall at 10 am into prayer and walking meditation. Lunch is at noon followed by a walk and nap, a visit to the center’s bookstore, or a review of notes from spiritual direction. Then another period of prayer and meditation before the Eucharist at 5 pm and dinner at 6 pm followed by reading and, maybe, another walk. Lights out, for me anyway, at 8 pm. I admit to checking my email about mid-way through a long retreat, like this recent one—only because it gets so backed up otherwise. I always have a great rationalization for compulsions like checking email. And, it’s always a really bad idea.  

From the 1980s to 2010, my spiritual practice and retreats were in the Zen Buddhist tradition.  The Buddhists have a nice community centered on compassion, loving-kindness, and presence. Good teachers, every single one, taught me something important, like how to watch the movies in my squirrel-mind. I learned to be as amused as not by watching the parade of complaints, analyses, plans, scoldings, and lectures. Sometimes I’d comment: oh, really? Or gee, that really hurt. Or I’m scared. Or that’s interesting. And in the space of watching and observing, I could sometimes find some peace.

My friend, Jana Genmyo Zeedyk, a psychologist and priest in the Zen tradition has experience and heart, and she captured the spirit of this practice in the loveliest way:

In Zen, a span of three, five, or seven days devoted to periods of concentrated, silent sitting with others is called a sesshin. During this time, we collect body, breath and heart-mind, settle deeply into the immediate present and allow the radiant light to shine.

Zen Master Dogen teaches “Everybody has their own radiant light…Now, I ask you, where do you all come from? The radiant light allows the radiant light to respond.”

So nicely said. I’m drawn to that radiant light, to a consciousness so transcendent, so good, and so deeply inspiring that being in its presence is a refuge.

If you have a retreat, what does it look like? What inspires you to go? Is it spiritual or religious? Writer or artist? Vocational? Marriage encounter? I’m dying to know. Post a comment. And in your sharing, add a link, if you like. Many thanks.  

One thought on “Away to A Quiet Place

  1. Isn’t it a wonder how the quiet and stillness can take up an entire day? It hardly seems possible in the hustle we return to. Harder still to stay in radiant light. The minutes are the same, but pass with a different cadence. I can feel the cadence of your retreat in the description of your day. It’s lovely. Thank you. Oh, and the Shrine of St Therese outside of Juneau AK is a gem.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *