Thoughts on Retreat

By Linda Oshins

To see with as little gloss as possible. No rush to interpret. No need to compare.
To hear without naming the sound-maker. To taste without greed.
To think without grasping……..
All the gifts of silence.
Anticipating entering silence……..
The silent retreat in Southern Ohio that Marcia and I lead, filled with students from Yoga on High, is next week, and the 10-day retreat I attend as a student every year is in a few months. My mind fills with impressions from past retreats.

Marcia, Martha and I dressing early in the dark, moving from room to room and chanting the sleepers awake.

Lighting the candles on the ledge of the big window at the end of the meditation hall. Watching them dim as the sun rises over the fields to the east. Cows looking like peace itself.

Faces softening over time. Brows relaxing, breath lengthening. All eyes widening.

Walks to the graves of the nuns at Grailville with a grieving woman whose time in silence lets her mourn, neither of us wishing to be elsewhere. Winter in the air but crocuses making promises.

The fountain in the California courtyard which is always silent, not just for retreat. A hummingbird hovering in the fountain, bathing its belly on the wing.

A daily walk to visit the poppy garden, watching the bright, flimsy tissue of the California poppy blossom edge out of the hard fat bud. Sitting, alert, long enough to watch a flower move with the sun. Green vegetative muscle flexing.

During gazing practice, watching my own thoughts flit across the weathered face of the woman opposite me. I don’t know her personally, have never spoken to her, but have beliefs about her. All fabricated. Fabricated even if I knew her well. The shock of seeing her when the veil falls away. Have I never looked an anyone before?

Time slowing. Stopping. Dissolution. No self.

All those on retreat have their own memories that instantly return them to retreat. The ones that come to mind bring me joy. I have to ask for the ones born of pain.

Nothing familiar remains. Fear. Grief as a pathway into letting go. Emotions so violent they are seething. A core belief in my unworthiness.

It’s all there. Open to everything. This poem by Rainer Maria Rilke describes being open without being able to close, unable to protect oneself by closing.

From Sonnets of Orpheus

Flower-muscle that opens the anemone’s
meadow-morning bit by bit,
until into her lap the polyphonic
light of the loud skies pours down,

muscle of infinite reception
tensed in the still star of the blossom,
sometimes so overmanned with abundance
that the sunset’s beckoning to rest

is scarcely able to give back to you
the wide-sprung petal-edges:
you, resolve and strength of how many worlds!

We, with our violence, are longer-lasting.
But when, in which one of all lives,
are we at last open and receivers?

I am like the little anemone I once saw in the garden in Rome, which had opened so far during the day that it could no longer close at night! It was dreadful to see it in the dark meadow, wide open, how it still absorbed into its seemingly frantically torn open calyx, with so much too much night above it, and would not be done. And beside it all its clever little sister, each gone shut through its little measure of abundance. I too am turned so helplessly outward, hence distraught too by everything, refusing nothing, my senses overflowing without asking me to every disturbance; if there is a noise, I give myself up and am that noise…

From Rilke’s letter of June, 1914

On retreat, as elsewhere, nothing to protect.