About a month ago, on a whim, I signed myself up for a one day silence retreat at the local Bethlehem Retreat led by a Hindu priest. As the day drew near though my anxiety increased. I had no idea what to expect and had pushed myself past what was comfortable. I obsessed over what to wear, what to bring, when to arrive, basically silly stuff. I tried to create obstacles in my schedule that wouldn't allow me to attend. But I went.
Not knowing what to expect at all I had envisioned that we'd be sitting cross legged all day in silence with a short, quiet meal break. I was surprised to be greeted at the door and given a short tour by a welcoming woman and another participant that was equally nervous. About 20 of us filed into a large room where a man sat on the floor. He told us that he'd talk for 5-10 minutes each hour giving us something to consider then we'd have 50 minutes of silence. We were free to sit (in chairs or on the floor), walk the grounds or do some yoga. Over 6 hours I rotated to sitting and walking depending on what I felt like, making sure I was back to hear his 5 minute talk each hour (which was hard since I didn't bring a watch or phone). Some students brought paper and pen to write thoughts (I'm assuming since I didn't talk to them) but I had nothing at all.
At this point you'd think I would have something profound to say about my experience in relation to a revelation that struck me. In fact my mind raced for the most part throughout the day. I thought of what would be for lunch, how I'd return to running after my injury, a book I was reading, I thought about 80's television shows and went on a long in depth pondering about war, soldiers and PTSD. None of it particularly deep or challenging. In fact at one point I'll confess to staring around the room and wondering if I was winning at silent meditation. Was I kicking ass compared to all these people that were in no way as excellent as I was at rocking my Zen. My busy mind ruled the day. The most interesting moments occurred when eating a meal in a group in complete silence without acknowledging anyone and leaving at the end with no more than a simple "Namaste" and walking out the door having not officially met anyone.
Possibly it wasn't as big a moment as I'd built up in my head that it would be, but I can say that I had one "Ah Ha" takeaway. I saw my busy mind clearly and let it run on while observing it. It was the first time I can say, after all those times sitting on a cushion, that I really felt separate from the ego filled mind that runs my life. By letting it carry on unabated I could sit back and watch it fill with thoughts. I could feel my mind trying to fill the time, almost panicked by the lack of stimulation. That alone was worth the day.