CREDOS : Silent retreat — III

At a 10-day Centering Prayer retreat at St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado, we practiced Grand Silence where you do not speak except for participating in the Catholic Mass, and you also refrain from eye contact. Though it sounds extreme, it’s actually a relief to forego social niceties — the chit chat, the smiles — in favour of focusing on your interior self.

It’s equally astonishing to realise after three or four days that you’re no longer paying attention to cues from the external world, but that you have truly turned inward. That’s why “retreat” is such an apt word.

Although retreats are not psychotherapy, you do learn a lot about yourself. When you let God take over, the most surprising things can happen. Like the time I was on a 10-day retreat at Insight Meditation Centre in Barre, Massachusetts.

One morning, I went in to take a shower. I stood buck naked in front of the shower sticking my hand in periodically to test the water, but the hot water never materialised. Then I tried stall after stall.

I was enraged. I re-dressed and stomped to the second floor where the hot water flowed freely.

What became very clear to me that day as I “sat” in meditation was that not only did the retreat house have a plumbing problem, but I had a problem, a pocket of anger that exploded when I felt I was not being taken care of. You can retreat from the world, I realized, but not from yourself. —