Diary of a silent retreat – the pleasure and pain of sitting with yourself

Diary of a silent retreat - the pleasure and pain of sitting with yourself

In this hectic world, finding a moment of peace can be a challenge. My quest for inner peace has led me to explore a range of meditation and mindfulness practices, enhanced by annual silent retreats. I find these retreats draw on the transformative power of meditation to offer profound opportunities for personal growth, focus, clarity, and emotional wellbeing. Meditation retreats offer me a unique opportunity to step back, reflect, and reconnect with myself after holding space for others to do the same.

I find there can be a special kind of hell, and paradoxically, bliss that comes with a silent retreat. Like anything worthwhile, when you overcome the challenges the rewards are that much sweeter. While silent retreats are always challenging at some point I have yet to return from a silent retreat feeling worse. In fact, I come back from retreat feeling full, centred, open with renewed perspective and possibility. This more expansive sense of self is often preceded by working through difficult times with grace. It is indeed a hero’s journey.

This year I wrote a poem as a guide to myself to navigate a particularly rough patch in the retreat. I was experiencing an unusual amount of physical discomfort in the sitting meditations. While there was not a lot of thinking or story attached, as I sat with the pain I found myself crying steadily. Physical pain often has an emotional component. I reminded myself not to get stuck in the story and let the uncomfortable feelings just come and go. I resisted the urge to analyse the tears. What resulted was a helpful and profound release which settled the physical pain and enabled me to become more fully present so I could rest into just being.

The rest of my retreat was deep, present and beautiful. I came home feeling more rested and peaceful than I had felt in a long time. All the things that had previously been worrying me no longer had the same gravitas. I returned to my life in a flow of gratitude, experiencing a sense of freshness within the ordinary flow of my life. Such is the power of a silent retreat. I accept you have to weather the storms to get to a place of stillness and peace.

You may be curious what I wrote to myself while on retreat, so here it is. I hope you find something in it which resonates. As I read it back now I see it is a compassionate guide for sitting with pain and difficult feelings. On the other side of the pain peace can be found, and if not peace, at least a greater understanding and self compassion.


Stay with me
Try not to turn away from my pain, uncomfortable as it may be
Bear it for a little longer
For if you can’t bear to sit with it, how can I not turn away too
Stay, gently and steadily
Please do not wish it away, get angry, try to fix or distract
Hold me quietly and let my tears fall softly
Full of the very tenderness they crave
Let them come like a torrent if they must
Just stay with me with whatever there is
Stay, with love

Tune in to the next blog to explore the challenges and rewards of meditation.

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