I’m happy to report that I did not fall prey to a serial killer this weekend. But I can’t say that my silent retreat was a complete success. I retreated all right. After a mere 24 hours, I escaped to the nearest hotel with a decent bed and room service.
Hosted by a non-profit Interfaith group, this retreat was extremely affordable. And I got exactly what I paid for.
I knew I was in for it when I hit the driveway, or rather when the driveway hit me. Deeply rutted, the steep gravel hill fought me for my car’s undercarriage at every turn.
Once I crested Mount Dilapidation, as I came to call it, a couple of ramshackle buildings came into view. The first building housed a shabbier version of the meditation room pictured on the website, a malfunctioning compost toilet, and two modest bedrooms, one of which was mine.
The asceticism appealed to me, given the nature of the retreat. The shabbiness did not.
While I am not terribly neat, I do like basic cleanliness. And this room lacked that. Almost everything that could be stained—the towel hanging from a thick wire at my window, the pillow, the comforter, the skylight—was. There were cobwebs in the corners, and it smelled like a combination of stale chicken soup, dust, damp, and chickpeas.
After a brief talk with the Reverend in charge, the silence began. I meditated, journaled, walked. It felt great. I didn’t speak to anyone, but one of the three other guests spoke to me twice. We’ll call her chatty Cathy. The others managed to convey what they needed to with hand gestures: Do you mind if I use the bathroom? Would you get the hell out of my way? May I have the milk? Can you believe chatty Cathy is STILL in the bathroom?
When bedtime rolled around, it was time for the sleep-sucking futon of death. Barring an airplane seat, this was the most uncomfortable thing I have ever slept on.
I wasn’t the only one not sleeping. The door to the building (which didn’t have a lock) kept opening and closing. From beneath the imagined protection of my thin blanket, I hoped it was another guest. The door to my room locked, but a determined nine-year-old could have forced it. Not that a thief would find this place tempting. No one with money would EVER stay there.
The mice couldn’t sleep either. They were pitter pattering all night.
Because the compost toilet was out of order, using the bathroom required a trip to building two. This was especially fun at night, when scanty lighting made for slow progress over the rocks and ill-kempt walkway.
Somewhere around 3:30 am I decided against spending a second night. At 5:30 am, I gave up on sleep and began planning my escape. I spent quite a bit of time looking at pictures of hotel beds on my smartphone. Porn for the unrested.
I stayed, silently, until mid-afternoon. I meditated and walked some more. I started writing a story about a woman who is trapped in an isolated and probably haunted retreat center.
Then I drove to the Marriott, ordered room service, watched Bridesmaids and laughed my ass off. Silence may be good for the soul, but laughter feels a whole lot better. My soft bed and private bathroom made me positively giddy. If that makes me shallow, fine. I can live with it.
From the midst of my hectic life, I sometimes think, “If only I could [spend a few months at an ashram, sail around the world, hike Mt. Wherever], I’d have it all figured out. I’d finally stop wasting my time, overeating, watching the millionaire matchmaker, and sweating the small stuff. I’d write that novel, be a better mother, and always get a good night’s sleep.”
But the thing is, my 15 minutes of near-daily meditation does more for me than my stay on Mount Dilapidation did. It gives me stillness when I need it most, when the day’s commitments make me feel crazy and overwhelmed.
So that’s what I learned from my silent retreat. Also, the next time I have a weekend away from my responsibilities, I need to make sure there’s room service.