If you’ve ever gone to a meditation retreat, you know there are a number of different stages one goes through. There is the excitement of planning, anticipating, packing, travelling. Then the introduction, settling in, orientation, everything new and different. It feels wonderful. You can’t wait for it all to start. You think, it will be such a relief to be quiet and peaceful, with nothing to do and nowhere to go. not talking to anyone. Really getting to be just with yourself. And then reality hits . . . and the work starts.

You sit. You walk. You work in the kitchen. You breathe. You stay silent. You are with others, but alone. Hmmmm, alone, together. Nothing interrupts your relationship with yourself, your thoughts. You wanted to be here . . . and now it’s starting to feel a little uncomfortable, a little squirmy. You start to think, for how long am I going to be here? Did I sign up for the weekend or the week? Wait, did I check the box for the month-long retreat?! What am I going to do every day? The clock is moving so slowly. My back hurts. I can’t sit one more minute! I need to stretch, but I have to think of what will disturb others. Have we really only been sitting for five minutes?

And now the thoughts start coming up. The details of the thoughts are not really important. These are the thought sticky notes: the ones that stay stuck in our consciousness and come up over and over when we have time or space on our hands. We peel off the sticky note/thought, we think we’ve trashed it . . . and then it resurfaces, re-stuck in our mind. There’s nothing we can do about any of the old thoughts. And we can’t stop thinking of all of this and it’s driving us crazy. OMG, why did I think this was going to be wonderful? It’s excruciating! My thoughts are impossible, out of control! I’m hopeless!

And then you remember the instruction to notice your body. Breathe. Be kind. Have compassion for the human that gets caught up in these loops, these blame games. Dear, silly human. Maybe I’m hearing someone else’s voice from long ago, or a societal voice. It’s not a kind, loving voice, so it can’t be my True, Loving, Authentic Self. Ah, this is my human voice, my ego. It seems the ego is unchecked and in charge.

However, as I said, there are a number of different stages. Those are just the initial stages. As the days go along, we keep moving through the different layers of thoughts and feelings and eventually come to a clearer place of some sort. The sticky thoughts don’t stick after a while, just like you can only re-stick a sticky note so many times. It’s a process, an intentional process. The silence, the focus is meant to open you up and let these issues rise to the surface, into your awareness. And then we can make a choice to let go, empty out, move on.

A silent retreat is an intense way to go through these layers. The retreat we are all on right now is a little gentler in some ways. We still can be in communication or perhaps working, in different ways. But just being removed from the world as it was creates something of a retreat process.

I’ve noticed this in myself (of course). I notice my sticky thoughts. I keep morphing into new pathways around the thoughts. Given enough space and time, I can move through them to another, newer, fresher perspective. The Past ceases to be the Present.

Retreats can be very useful. And difficult. Both are true. We didn’t choose this retreat, but for some reason, it chose all of us. Absolutely everything we go through helps us learn about Love. Sometimes it’s just learning how to be kinder, more loving, more compassionate to ourselves for what we are going through. Then, we can more easily offer the same to others. It sounds simple, and it’s not easy.

During a retreat, there’s a lot of attention focused on being present. Being aware of our breathing helps us be present. Being present helps us connect to our Higher Self. Connecting to our Higher Self helps us feel the Love we are. And then we can remember: We are Love; We Love; We are Loved.

When you don’t know what to do, breathe.