Physical solitude, exterior silence, and real recollection are all morally necessary for anyone who wants to lead a contemplative life,
wrote the Trappist monk Thomas Merton in New Seeds of Contemplation. Every spiritual tradition encourages times of solitude, introspection, and prayer or meditation. The Buddha and his monastics spent three months each year in a “rains retreat”, during the time of year, in that climate, that a period of intensive meditation made the most sense.
This is that time in the US. The short days, with much of nature in hibernation, suggests a return to “exterior silence”. To create the right conditions, Thomas Merton had this logistical advice:
Although it is true that this solitude is everywhere, there is a mechanism for finding it that has some reference to actual space, to geography, to physical isolation from the towns and cities of men.
There should be at least a room, or some corner where no one will find you and disturb you or notice you. You should be able to untether yourself from the world and set yourself free, loosing all the fine strings and strands of tension that bind you, by sight, by sound, by thought, to the presence of other men.
Formal retreats have created such rooms for us, allowing that essential untethering. Here are are few suggestions for retreats in California, depending on how long you have to sit:
- If you live in the LA area and have only have one day, come meditate with Stillpoint LA this Sunday in Eagle Rock.
- If you have a weekend, Against the Stream has two retreats coming up: a New Year’s Retreat in Malibu and a Women’s Retreat (their first!) in Yucca Valley.
- If you have a week or longer, Spirit Rock Meditation Center still has space available for a few retreats this spring.
Retreats rejuvenate our practice. They are a balm for our overtaxed minds and nervous systems, and they’re essential to the development of Insight. But they should not be used as confirmation of our dislike of the world.
We do not go into the desert to learn how to escape people, but to learn how to find them,
Merton reminded us. Retreats are not a rejection of the world, but an affirmation that we operate best within it if we take precious time for silence and solitude.
May you find some corner where no one will disturb you. May your practice set you free.