Silence always has a lesson for me, I know that, but it is not always apparent at the time. Anyhow, before I get onto the good stuff, let me tell you that the 48-hour silent retreat I went on this weekend was H-O-R-R-E-N-D-O-U-S!!!!!
The centre itself was in the wilds and set in beautiful grounds. It was clean, comfortable and well-appointed. There were 7 of us and I counted 8 loos. We also had our own kitchen packed with every teabag and healthy biscuit you could imagine. So far, so good…
It was a religious centre, but it wasn’t a denomination I have ever heard of and came with its own teachings and strange symbols. I don’t feel it would be respectful to go into details, but just know that it was way off the deep end.
We began our silence in a chapel that had all the atmosphere of a crematorium with an altar that wouldn’t look out of place on an alien space craft. I was getting a Scientology vibe and when Marion kicked things off with a ritual that involved washing one another’s hands in a bowl of oil-scented water, I wanted to shout ‘taxi!’ Or drop the bowl. Throw up in it. Scream. I was unravelling before we’d even started.
Our silent period began on Friday night and as soon as the hush descended, the chatter in my mind got louder. It was incessant and by Saturday morning, it was speaking to me in a thick Liverpool accent.
The worst thing was, there was absolutely nothing to do. Marion had asked us not to speak or read books. She’d taken everybody’s phone (not mine, but that will be lesson 2 in tomorrow’s post) and there were no TVs or radios. There weren’t even chores to occupy us as we had our own housekeeper for the weekend, although I did crack and unload the dishwasher twice.
Marion urged me not to go for a run or drink coffee, but not wanting to leave the place in a straitjacket, I ignored her advice and did both. I went for a morning jog, then I did some yoga, then I went for a walk….and another walk and felt so bored, I broke into a meeting room that had a wooden floor and practiced my posé turns for an hour. It was the only time I had any respite from my howling mind. I don’t like posé turns. I am terrible at them and was so busy thinking about which leg to bend, where my arms should be and how I could spin without falling over, the Liverpool guy in my head went to the pub and let me get on with it.
There was a strange temple in the grounds and we were given the key to it, so I ventured in alone to explore. It smelt musty. There were fissures in the walls where the water had got in that looked like ghastly wounds, mould grew on patches of carpet and spider webs like candyfloss speckled with dead flies filled dark corners.
The temple was vast and had symbols I didn’t recognised around a central dome. It reminded me of every horror film I’ve ever seen. It was the sort of place where you’d expect to see Dr Phibes playing a hellish organ while men in pointy hoods sacrificed babies at the alter.
It also contained countless rooms. Of course, when I happened across a ‘Do Not Enter’ sign I pushed the door open. It looked a bit like Eva Petulengro’s parlour and I had no desire to step inside.
Thankfully, there was a self-enquiry session at 4.30pm on the Saturday where we all got to talk about how things were going for us. At last, I could speak! I shared the fact that I felt as if I were stuck in the middle of a horror movie. Marion did her usual “Close your eyes, take a deep breath….what’s here for you?’ thing and once again, I was back with my familiar old friend – fear.
And oh dear God, things just got worse….We ate supper to the soundtrack of some monks chanting. I usually love that sort of thing, but the track was a little downbeat and once again, I was getting a funeral/horror vibe. Thankfully, it was mostly drowned out by silent crunching – I couldn’t work out why this venue served the loudest food known to man knowing that it had to be eaten in silence. Celery, raw carrot, endive leaves…you name it, we crunched it.
Had we been near civilisation, I might have run away at this point, but I didn’t have the car and we were in one of those places where they don’t have pavements.
That night, I paced the floor while everyone else went to bed. I stared at a candle flame until my eyes hurt. I ate some biscuits. Still the voice in my mind would not shut up and it was not saying anything of any value. ‘Alright mate? I’m proper bored ‘ere’ it said in a thick Scouse accent.
And then, at about midnight, a lightbulb went off in my head and I wrote in my journal ‘I DON’T BELIEVE IN ANY OF THIS STUFF!’ Not the reincarnation. The channelling. Guardian angels. God. Spirit. Unseen guides. Universal energy. One consciousness. Christianity. Buddhism. Hinduism. None of it. I don’t believe I have a soul, or a soul’s purpose. I think that when you are dead, that’s it, you’re dead.
I felt like a kid who has just been told that Father Christmas doesn’t exist. I really want to believe in this stuff. I’ve tried extremely hard to convince myself. I’ve read dozens of books and done all the things that my spiritual mentor has asked of me, yet if am truly honest with myself, I do not believe in any of it. Not at the moment anyway. The overriding message I got from this was “Think for yourself.”
It’s ironic that I happen to be in the middle of a spiritual mentorship programme and I don’t feel remotely spiritual, but there you have it. I told Marion that I am going to stop writing out mantras I don’t believe in and doing all the other bits of homework that is asked of us. I am going to do absolutely nothing.
What I do know is that if you control your mind, you control your life. That’s the bit of it that really means something to me, which is why I will continue on with the daily meditation because if nothing else, it calms me and gives me clarity of thought. I am now left with a blank canvas and that feels quite exciting. In time, I am sure I will fill it, but with my own beliefs and not anyone else’s.
That was the first valuable lesson I learned at the weekend, the second I will share with you tomorrow. You’ll be pleased to know that normal service has resumed. I’ve watched an episode of Love Island, I am thrilled to be home and there is no longer a Scouser in my head.