Five lovely Australian folks sat next to me on the plane from Dallas this weekend. We were all traveling to Madison Wisconsin; I was going home, and they were going to train for the Ironman race, which is to take place in Madison on September 13. We laughed at how small our plane was, and that I landed in the best seat on it; the one with the most leg room. I’m only 5′ 2” on a good day, so I offered a taller woman my seat. She declined, and our conversation continued. “How long is the race, I asked? “A 2 mile swim, a 115 mile bike, and a 26 mile run.” I had nothing within my experience to ask anything intelligent after learning what felt like an impossible task. They were all so happy, and they’d been traveling for 24 hours straight. It was compelling to be in their presence, and I wondered why long enough to write about it.
When they asked me where I was going, and what I’d done. I said home, and that I’d been in retreat. “Oh a spiritual thing?”, the gentleman asked. “Yes, I was in silence for a while, and I was fasting”, I said. “WHAT?”, he laughed. I had to laugh myself, I mean these guys were on the way to the IRONMAN, and they found it impossible to fathom doing what I did. It struck me that being in relative silence and fasting had not come easy for me at first, either.In fact, I think it’s been more challenging in ways to “empty” myself like that, than to do anything that required my training and attention.
For a moment, I realized that something has been going on in my life, within me, to enable me do such a thing, and to be happy about it to.
So many of my experiences over the week before and after my retreat, were about the difficulty of the thinking mind. One woman has asked me for help with repetitive thoughts; another asked me to help her to experience something other than the voice in her head. She asked, “How do I know God? I watched people at the airports glued to their phones, and noticed how noisy the world was around me.
While in the quiet of my room, my mind drifted to people who were truly confined; a friend’s 93-year-old mother whose mind has faded, along with her hearing, so that her only movement is from her bed to a chair in front of the TV. I remembered men I knew in solitary confinement in prison, and I thought of how easy it is to lose one’s mind, by feeling trapped, and powerless. The trick is to tap into the source of power within me, which is always present. I felt blessed to know I would be leaving my room intact, and into a bountiful life.
I wish our world worshipped silence as much as we worship activity and achievement, because the greatest of gifts was given me there. I know that we are never alone. I emerge from my retreat refreshed in a way that is hard to describe; I feel solid, clear and peaceful. I can say to my brother, who is pained and exhausted from cancer treatments to rest, and to know that he is held. My friend can talk to me about her mother, and be assured that she isn’t alone either, even when she leaves her alone in the house, and be comforted by that.
This is not the way I was in the world; in my mind, or the space I occupied. It’s taken years of practice. But, there’s been a shift in me, perhaps imperceptible most times, that enables me to feel stronger than I’ve ever been. I’m grateful, and full.
Here’s Ryan Adams, with How Much Light