Sitting in Silence

Written by Susan Schepp


What is it to come to a silent retreat where we are essentially alone with ourselves and at the same time sharing the space with others? It is a rather unique experience to be with oneself and others without the usual interactions and surface conversations.  It is an opportunity to get in touch with our innermost feelings and to sense the presence of a deeper energy that connects us all.  And in this space of silence, there can be a sense that there is no longer the feeling of division, and self and other disappear.

When coming to a silent retreat for the first time, some may find it a relief to not have to uphold an image of ourselves as this or that and worry about whether one will be accepted or not by the people we encounter.  Instead, maybe we can relax into ourselves as we are from moment to moment with whatever comes up with the supportive atmosphere of others doing the same. 

On the other hand, for some of us who are new, when entering into uncharted or unfamiliar territory, feelings of anxiety or fear may arise.  This mind tends to gravitate to wanting things to be familiar to be in the known to feel safe and secure.  Is it possible to stay with this discomfort of not knowing, of not being in control?  We have spent a good portion of our lives running away from the emptiness we feel inside, trying to constantly fill ourselves up with ideas, comparisons judgements, beliefs, to feel we belong and are something solid and defined. But is anything in this world solid and predictable? Things are always in a state of flux.  We can see this in nature, as the seasons come and go, trees budding out in the spring and their leaves dying and dropping to the ground in the fall; and yet the human mind wants to grasp, to hold on, and for things to stay the same as something familiar and dependable. So, is there something we can get in touch with that is not dependent on anything, an energy, awareness that permeates all life on this earth and beyond? The word alone can point to “all one”, whole and complete unto oneself which is not separate from the world.

Silence is there when the mind is quiet, but first we need to become aware that most of the time the mind is full of chatter.  Maybe the first thing we notice when sitting quietly is how much random thinking is going on with thoughts of what has happened in the past or thoughts of what might happen in the future, and then comparisons, judgments, evaluations and so on. Is it possible to observe what is going on in the mind and not get caught up or carried away? As soon as we become aware of what is going on, we are no longer caught up. In that moment there is a gap, a waking up, a space between the thoughts, and the mind begins to quiet down on its own.  Maybe during a silent retreat, this is something that can be discovered from moment to moment in one’s own observations.