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THE THIRD IS GIVING YOU A GLIMPSE INTO WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE ON A SELF-IMPOSED SILENT RETREAT

COME ALONG WITH LOCAL REGISTERED SOCIAL WORKER CATHY MACDOUGALL AS SHE JOURNALS HER WAY THROUGH HER FIRST SELF-IMPOSED SILENT RETREAT

The First 24 Hours

My first day on my self-imposed silent retreat is complete. It is 9:56 p.m., it’s a Sunday, and I have not yet been here quite 24 hours.

As I was arriving, it was raining; and there was some blue sky competing with the rain clouds… trying to be seen as we all are in some way. I really couldn’t wait to ‘get out of dodge’ and get to the place I needed to be ...alone. As I came close to my destination, the fog that was settling in over the lake was telling me that the rain was not going anywhere soon. I am glad. I love rainy days.

 I arrived at my “bunglaow” in the woods and began immediately to unload the few things I brought with me. I had not been here by myself but only for short periods; usually, when I am here alone I am waiting for others to arrive. I really have not spent much time by myself, here, at this sanctuary.  In the 24 years that passed since I purchased this modest abode, I have never stayed by myself! I look back over the years and ask myself why?

I was afraid. Pure and simple. I was afraid of being by myself, remnants of my mother who had her own share of anxieties as I realized as I became older. Whenever I did think about staying overnight by myself I would have wild thoughts that some deranged person would find their way here and perhaps hurt me, or, worse still, kill me! I imagined this of course, but the imagination can be a powerful place to be…good and bad. I also would imagine big animals like a bear coming around to maul me.

At the time these events seemed so real to me, like most unharnessed fears. Part of the story line was executing an escape plan, which is probably a wise thing to do, but, totally unnecessary given the likelihood of anything like what my imagination convinced me would actually happen.

Rather than fully admit to this unreasonable fear, I secretively decided that the remedy for this was never to stay by myself. Easier. Now 24 years later I can say I have grown. I have learned that confronting your fears, can ….no, absolutely does lead to a personal emancipation. I am no longer afraid. Of course, those old fears do pop up but when they do, I have been able to tame the imagination. I have taken the fear out of fear…for the most part.

When I arrived, I admit that getting out of the car did feel “earily” quiet. At first. Then very quickly, I realized that it is always quiet here! It is one of the beauties of this place. It only felt initially daunting because I was alone. I also remembered that I love the quiet, I wanted quiet, and I needed quiet. I did not know what to expect; I try to live my life this way.

I am tired. Not only because I was out the night before for my friend and my brother’s celebrations of their birthright, but I am also tired because I feel like I have been on the go for months. I do not really think it was so much about being so busy, because I do like being busy, having purpose is more accurate. Rather, it’s more that I was not getting to do what I really wanted, at least some of the time. During the past several years I have come to realize this for myself. Not taking time to do what I want can be more exhausting than anything! It is the hidden and disguised burden we all carry. 

You see I have an invisible and rather irritating ‘old friend’ on my shoulder, and this ‘friend’ keeps nattering in my ear, reminding me to do for others, for if I don’t, I am a terrible person. No s!%t! Kind of like the martyr syndrome, but not quite. As a result, I have been, in my own mind, on others’ time. 

Because I have gotten insight into this this “thing”, I have successfully turned down the volume on this so-called friend. Furthermore, not being able to rid myself completely of this friend, I have accepted that this voice is here to stay. It’s this acceptance of “the voice” that has allowed me to not to be a hostage to it anymore. I hear it, but do not listen to it. Further, I have decided to befriend this voice, to give it some shelter, as it has a played a big role in who I am today. The silver lining is that the volume is turned way down. The voice has become tired as well, weakened, realizing it’s not getting much attention. A tried-and-true strategy.

So back to my 24 hours on the silent retreat. I could write so much more about why I am doing this, but I am not going to today, at this moment. What I do know now is this: I am going to be here for the next six days, by myself with very little noise, no one to talk to or blame, no television, no radio other than one hour of radio a day, no alcohol, no plan, nobody. We shall see what comes up.

I will say that the different reactions to my doing this are very interesting. They range from “what?”  “why?” to “how?” responses. Most are curious with a sense of wonderment. Some have said “good for you,” and others have said the same but with a cautious tone. Some have said that its “nuts”, “crazy” or “I could never do that”. Well, that’s not true. You can! Some think there is some deep dark life stage I am going through, while others think there must be something wrong so ask questions like, “Is everything ok? Are you depressed?

 So, I will set the record straight. Yes, I am going through life stages but, isn’t everyone? However, it is not dark, at least not today.  I am not depressed, quite the opposite. I feel free! Free to do what I want, when I want, with no one around to remind me what I should be doing, (that being mostly myself). Remember the little invisible voice?

Also, I am doing some inner work and to see if what I think I want to do is really what I want, or is it the imagination taking over? Fantasy. The great escape!  The idea that there is something better out there!  It is my commitment to explore these things and more. There are no definitive answers, you see. You can only do this work when all the influences are removed and you are on your own.

 

Here I am, and so far, there is no fear of silence, just gratitude and relief that I am here.

 The song Silence is Golden comes to my mind. The song was released when I was about nine years old. Hearing it on the radio, the only source of listening to music back then, it had meaning for me. Silence is golden.

 Day one insights:

 I talk to myself… a lot!!  I think we all do and I think its great way of processing. The difference here is that I have become aware of how just how much I talk to myself. Perhaps it’s away to ward off anxiety?  I am also listening. I am not really being silent, am I?

 My Invite to you: Try being silent. Listen to it.

Read Day Two of Cathy’s Silent Retreat in next week’s issue of The Third.

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