I returned home from my eight-day silent retreat at the Benedictine Sisters Retreat Center (at Sacred Heart Monastery) in Cullman, Alabama on Friday. It was a powerful experience, lots of shifting energy, some opening and some closing.
The first evening was one of talking until after dinner, when silence began. The retreat group, about 20 of us, talked as we unloaded and moved into our dorm rooms at the retreat center, and we talked at dinner. But after dinner we went back to our private rooms in silence. The next day was a kind of “ease in” day, with the first centering prayer sits at 7 AM. Two 20-mintue periods. Then another two -20-minute periods at 11, followed by lunch at noon. We had about 10 minutes of talking for each person as we checked in with the retreat leaders in the afternoon. That was an opportunity for us retreatants to share how we were doing and where we were in our journeys at the beginning of the retreat. And then we went into the hour-long sit periods at 3 PM. That meant three session of 20 minutes each, with a meditative walk around the group circle in between periods.
The typical centering prayer session begins when a retreat leader rings a Tibetan singing bowl to signal the start of a session. We sit in a circle, the majority of people in chairs. Sometimes people choose to sit on the floor. At this retreat, the woman next to me used a meditation bench for most sessions, and the nun who was on the retreat sat on her meditation cushion in the half lotus position. I sit on a zafu and zabuton when I’m at home, but in my weekly group and on retreat, I sit in a chair.
No, it’s not easy on your body to be sitting in centering prayer/meditation for three hours a day. I typically have a lot of tension the first three days. This year was no exception. I have been consciously trying to realign my body the last several months, and that resistance really hit me at this retreat. I have scoliosis, and I realized a while back that it’s due to my holding my body tense in certain places. So I’ve been trying to let go (if you’ve read my past posts, you see a big theme in my life here). I’ve let go of some of the tension I carry on my right side at my waist, and that has affected my spine. I also hold my left shoulder tense. My massage therapist released it some in our last session, but I still unconsciously hold it up much of the time.
So at this retreat, I tried to align myself, to “reframe” myself. I tried to walk slowly, being conscious of my posture, of my feet touching the ground, of the movement of my muscles during locomotion. What I managed to do was to make myself more and more tense, to make a girdle of tension around my midsection. The soreness magnified through the first three days.
And then I had a release on the third day when I skipped the 3 PM session to go to the yoga room and stretch. I managed to relax (somewhat) into some stretches and let go of some of the tension. That morning, I’d had a Healing Touch session with one of the sisters at the monastery. My chakras were all wide open. Really generating energy. When I’m on a longer centering prayer retreat with three hours a day of meditation, the energy really opens up for me. It happens in every longer retreat. I become even more sensitive than usual to energy and its changes and fluctuations. And I know that tension typically builds until Day Three of the retreat.
So with the release of some of the muscle tension and the powerful energy I was feeling, that set me up for the next day, the day of the real reframing of more than my body.
That was the shift I’ve felt coming for a while.
And I’ll talk about that in my next post.