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Some years ago, a friend offered me her cabin “up north” for a week and said I could include friends. Overjoyed, I quickly called the two women whom I met with weekly for mutual spiritual support. “How about creating a week of silent retreat together?” I suggested. Both responded with a rousing “Yes!” Quiet, undistracted time for reading, meditating, walking in the woods, floating on a lake – what a splendid contrast this would offer to our frenzied lives.
But could we really spend a week together in silence? And also have fun? We were going to be at a lake cabin, after all. With some simple planning and flexibility, we turned the week into a rich time of reflection, prayer, and immersion in nature, plus some joint playtime, too.
To be honest, napping was our top agenda the first couple days, along with plenty of do-nothing collapsing in the hammock swing. Being in the midst of simple, uncluttered, natural surroundings and having no to-do list took all the air out of our minds, muscles, and adrenal glands. We leisurely embraced no-motion living.
Were we silent? We were, all day until 6pm. Then we joined together for dinner to harvest our day’s reflections and discoveries. The meal was followed by stories, laughter, games, and whatever else we felt drawn to do. Sometimes we just napped some more!
At week’s end, we all celebrated how refreshed, spiritually renewed, and rested we felt. Immersing ourselves in the silence and the serene environment had “saved our sanity.” A real bonus was that the whole week was free, except for splitting the cost of gas to get us there.
Based on the number of people who oohed and aahed enviously when we told them about our experience, we decided to create silent retreats closer to home – in our homes, in fact.
From time to time, I invite groups of friends to come to my house for a day of silence. Typically, six to ten people come. My home offers them a quiet location next to a large, tree-lined pond in Brooklyn Center and near a scenic walking trail along Shingle Creek. Ducks, herons, egrets, turtles, goldfish, wildflowers and songbirds greet the retreat guests.
The retreat has no agenda, except silence. People come for the whole day (9am – 4pm) or for whatever portion of that time they wish. I leave the door open so they can come and go as they please. They bring journals, reading materials, sketch pads – whatever they wish — to support their own spiritual nourishment. Napping is common, since genuine resting tends to be too rare for many of us these days.
Lunch is eaten “whenever” and “wherever” in silence. Sometimes it’s potluck. Sometimes I put out soup or an array of salad ingredients and deviled eggs so people can come and just relax without having to plan and bring anything. I’m grateful to have their company so I, too, can be supported in committing to a day of silence. The whole experience, to me, is delicious.
One of my frequent retreat guests is Anne Boever, who has hosted similar retreats at her home. Anne says, “There is a deep soft energy that intensifies being around others who are also in the silent space. It is very restful and helps clear my mind. Things feel simpler and I am refreshed.”
She adds, “Using someone’s home for these retreats means no need to ‘find’ a place. Opening the day to people coming and going allows me flexibility with my schedule.
“Having it at someone’s home feels nurturing. One time I awoke from a nap hearing the host preparing soup. It flashed me back to being a young girl and hearing my mother preparing dinner.
“These are the kinds of gifts I receive by quieting and just being.”
Mary Wright sums up her home-based retreat experience in another way: “It really is different without words. There is a communication of being going on. We are each in our own meditative state, and we also share that experience with others.”
Pat Samples is a writer and facilitator for creative aging and spiritual growth.