Lara Stewart-Panko

My 10-Day Silent Retreat – Part 2

I had wanted to attend a silent retreat for several years, but the one in Portugal I'd had my eye on never lined up in my schedule. It was a wonderful surprise when the Mexico retreat came across my radar as it worked in every which way, including being the particular spiritual tradition I wanted: Advaita Vedanta, which is a non-dual perspective.

Leading up to my departure I had some fears. I worried about leaving my one cat who is very attached to me. I worried about a crisis happening at home while I was away. I worried about having to reintegrate into the noise and busyness of my regular life.

As it turned out, all of those things were fine. I didn't worry about not being able to speak for 10 days, and that was truly easy and good. Before I went I read "A Book of Silence" by Sarah Maitland (highly recommend), and I was grateful that she had included the research that found that humans store all language -- including sign language -- in a particular part of the brain, except for swear words. Meaning people with certain brain injuries can lose their ability to speak, except when they need to tell another drive where to go. It played out for me when insects startled me in my room. I did break silence in a colourful way a handful of times out of sheer surprise.

Another thread that wove through my experience was my grief for my father. He died in October of 2017, but he had lived in Mexico for 17 years and this was the first time I'd been there since his death. On the first night I arrived in Mexico I went to the ocean and lost it big time. It was a scary prospect to think about going into silence the next morning with so much emotion coursing through me, but sleep was healing and the next morning was peaceful. My father's birthday fell halfway through my retreat and I had a great time communing with him on the beach during my break time. His ashes had been scattered in the sea and it felt comforting to stand with my feet in the water, thinking about all the good beach times we had shared.

Beyond the physical demands and discoveries the long meditation sessions brought, I did a TONNE of mental-emotional-spiritual work. I cleared a massive backlog of grief regarding my son, his health, some traumas he's experienced and the normal-but-painful individuation process he's going through as a teen. I was struck by just how much was in there. It was a tremendous blessing to be able to have that time and opportunity to process some very big stuff, and it hurt A LOT. But, on the other side of it, I was truly relieved of some heavy, heavy baggage that had been weighing me down more than I had realized. I was super-grateful that journalling was encouraged and supported.

I also had a few transcendent moments that defy accurate description. They were trippy and blissful and expansive. One in particular had me more aware of the unfathomable magnitude of Life than I'd known up to that point. Truly ineffable. I would've enjoyed more mind-blowing moments and less emotional work, and I also accept that Life was giving me what I most needed through the vehicle of the retreat. And for those who said to me, "Oh, what a great vacation!", umm...no. It was not. It was not a vacation in the sense of lolling next to a pool with a cold beer. It was a break from routine, which was great, and it was a demanding 10 days both physically and psychologically. I am cognizant that I'm tremendously lucky I got to experience it.

There were a whole bunch of things I noticed I DIDN'T care nor think about much during my time in retreat: my husband and other family members and friends, my cats, my home, the world at large. I did think about work somewhat, mostly in terms of new and exciting ideas or wishing I could slow my pace a bit to have better balance. I didn't miss talking AT ALL (some of you who know me might be shocked at that one!), but I did miss physical affection and was delighted when a cat snuck into my outdoor washroom area...until it attacked me.

By the end of the 10 days I was ready to return home and felt truly reset. I even noticed how much more peaceful the flights were going back than the ones that had carried me to Mazunte. Most of the positive effects have held. The shifts around the emotional pain in relation to my son's experiences have yielded a better, less anxious relationship with him and we are both very happy about that. I also have a closure around my father's death that wasn't there before.

I still don't meditate quite as often as I would like, but now sitting for 30-60 minutes at a time feels easy and natural, which I love. I am clearer than ever that meditation is one of the greatest gifts Life has offered as it enables growth, healing, peacefulness and awareness to be one's reality as efficiently as possible. And while I have no intention of going back to Mexico for another retreat (I don't like flying for environmental reasons), I have paid my deposit for another 10-day retreat happening in Ontario in April 2020. I am so excited about being able to have extended focus on the inner terrain again, and I highly recommend the experience to anyone. Even a single day in silence, or three or five...you'd be surprised how such a simple endeavour can give so much.

The photo is of the unswimmable beach (strong undertows) where I spent an hour sharing a Kombucha with my dad on his birthday.

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