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TOPIC: Introducting silence in retreats

Introducting silence in retreats 11 May 2013 10:17 #11650

Had an interesting committee meeting this morning relating to a summer retreat. The retreat is going to be taught by a Catholic monk, with a focus on Christian forms of meditation such as lectio divina and centering prayer. The audience is a mix of levels, and the director wants to appeal to newbies. Most of our meeting this morning was dedicated to trying to work out ways to balance a welcoming and informative context for beginners, while making the retreat satisfying and helpful for more experienced people. Particularly: how and when to include discussion/sharing sessions; and how to teach about and include silence.

Some of the members were concerned that enforcing too much silence would be too big a hurdle for newbies, who would feel lost, daunted and uncomfortable and therefore might not sign up. This is a bit different than at a typical Buddhist retreat, perhaps, in that there most people are not culturally Buddhist and trying to discover a way to deepen their relationship to the tradition they already know, but may be more likely to be people who are entering into a new tradition which for them (as Westerners) is already defined as being about a monastic form of practice with a focus on silent meditation. So you sign up for a weekend workshop with the expectation that you are going there to act like a monk (not eating much, sitting for hours, keeping silent, etc.)

For cultural Catholics, being Catholic involves the things they have grown up doing: vocal prayer in groups, singing in groups, group discussions (like Bible study), devotional practices that are heavily verbal, social services projects, attending talks by popular priests or speakers and so on. Being in relationship with God is not foremost about being monk-like, for most people.

So we discussed strategies we'd seen at other retreats, such as having badges one can wear that say "I'm keeping silence" to make one mindful of choosing (or not) to be silent, and as a way to help others feel comfortable not speaking to you (moreso than in the US, in Brazil it is very rude not to chit chat with someone who is nearby). Such as hanging posters in the rooms and halls that offer quotes about the importance of silence. About offering a printed page that explains the usefulness of silence and how to appreciate it and try it for yourself. About having specific times for small-group discussion that would be an outlet for talking, but structured around discussing the teachings and meditation practice, rather than social chit chat.

Curious if anyone here has thoughts on their experiences with making time for silence, with retreats, etc., particularly when they were beginners?
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Introducting silence in retreats 11 May 2013 11:30 #11653

I used to be a big-time talker before I encountered the dharma.

I went on several weekend retreats in the beginning of my practice, and I saw how the impulse to speak arose quite frequently. Even when we were asked to be silent, I struggled and I couldn't wait for those periods when I could chat with the other practitioners.

While at home, i came to realize an underlying discomfort with silence. I couldn't be around anyone without chatting, and I usually had the habit of keeping music on for background noise. While driving, the radio always had to be on -- I couldn't entertain any other possibility. So, I started to see these habit patterns, and I challenged them. Not too long after I questioned the discomfort with silence, I fully embraced opportunities to be quiet and explore life without the distractions of extra noise.

These days, when I attend dharma talks or attend day-long retreats, I welcome the silence and I am at ease with it. I don't feel rude or uncomfortable about being quiet.

At home, I never let a day pass without quiet time, whether it be in the form of meditation, or sitting quietly with a cup of tea or coffee before going to work. In the evenings, weather permitting, I like to take silent walks through the park & hear birdsong & barking dogs unobstructed by talk.
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