Seeking Silence

 
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Starting the New Year with a mindfulness escape right here in Vancouver.

 

By Shannon Pidlubny

 

When most people think of a mid-winter break, they think of sunny beaches, margaritas or vacationing in an exotic location with palm trees and warm ocean breezes. They think of a place they can escape to—somewhere a passport and a plane ticket is required.

 

My bag is packed, but I am leaving my money and passport at home.

 

Where I am going I don’t need a visa or much cash on hand. I am taking off to enjoy the rest and relaxation that a silent meditation can bring, only a few hours away.

 

Every year, when it gets damp and dark, and my brain is a buzz from the holidays and mid-terms, I spend a few days in silence at a retreat centre on Bowen Island, called Rivendell. This large, lodge-like retreat centre sits on top of Cates Hill, on the picturesque Bowen Island, that is accessible by a 20 minute ferry from Horseshoe Bay.

 

Those on retreat, can come with friends, partners, or on their own for respite, relaxation, and silence. The rooms are basic, with everything you need contained within a small room, and there is a small kitchen to make simple meals. But the magic of the place is that it is a place to retreat, to reconnect with nature, ourselves or deepen our relationship with God/Buddha/Spirit/Divinity.

 

The retreat centre is run by Christian volunteers but is open to people of all faiths, agnostics and atheists alike. The centre is made available for those on limited budgets. They gratefully accepts donations, or pay-what-you-can for your stay.

 

I first visited Rivendell in October, for a 4-day silent group retreat led by Kathi Bentall and Joyce Braun from the Listening Post in Vancouver. The idea behind the 4-day silent retreat is simple—take time out for yourself, in silence, away from the daily distractions that ordinarily dominate our lives.
 
When I first arrived at the silent retreat I was nervous. I wanted a break from the fast-paced race of my life, wanted to be away from my computer and work to contemplate and reflect on who I am and what I want. But I am a social person who loves talking to others. How the heck was I supposed to not talk to people for four days? How was I supposed to fill up my time? On the first night, all 30 of us gathered in the large room, and the facilitators encouraged us to open up to ourselves, to spend the next four days listening to ourselves. Silence is not about avoiding others and technology, instead it is a deep listening to ourselves, and to the environment around us, in silence.

 

Kathi Bental, the group facilitator said that “typically, we are so busy in our lives that we do not have a chance to consider what our problems are.” She compared this busyness or distracted way of living to: “walking through a muddy river and always stepping on a jagged rock on the river”. In contrast, “sitting in silence, is like standing still in that muddy river, until the mud settles, one can see where that rock is, and remove it, so that we no longer stumble on it.”

 

The first night was a bit jittery for me, pacing up and down the stairs looking for a comfortable place to settle, to be alone with my thoughts. The second day was easier, as  I settled into a slower pace. I walked outside, surrounded by cedar trees, with the leaves crunching under foot. I meditated, I read, I drank tea, I listened to soothing music. And most importantly—when a concern or problem came to mind, I sat with it. I got curious about my thoughts and problems. I spent hours thinking about them, free from any distractions or obligations. Over time, new ways of looking at the problem came to mind and I had found new creative solutions.

 

The time went faster than I expected. Sitting with yourself in silence, is like spending time with your oldest friend and getting to know them better—what excites them, what makes them sad, what issues they have been avoiding, and how to approach old problems in new ways to live more fully. I emerged from the 4-day silent retreat recharged, with a better knowledge of who I am and how to solve my challenges.

 

The practice of groups sitting in silence is becoming more popular in Vancouver as well.

 

Many centers offer group meditation and workshops on mindfulness and meditation, usually for free or by donation. Mindfulness is very similar to what I experienced at the silent group retreat—being aware of our thoughts and sensation and sitting with them. It is through this awareness where we can understand where the rocks are in our life that we keep stumbling over, and remove them to live more fully, more mindfully.

 


 

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Finding Mindfulness

 

Rivendell Retreat Centre
 
This volunteer run centre on Bowen Island accommodated family, couples and individual retreats at any time. To book a personal retreat call: 604-947-0077 or email booking@rivendellretreat.org
 
Silent Group Retreats
 
4 day and 10 day silent retreats are offered at Rivendell Retreat Centre on Bowen Island four times a year. The retreat provides meals, accommodation and spiritual facilitators to guide the group. For information or to register contact Kathi Bentall in Vancouver at 604-255-1295 or email kathibentall@yahoo.ca.
 
Shambhala Meditation Centre of Vancouver
 
This meditation centre offers silent meditation three times a week, and hosts an Introduction to Meditation on Wednesday evenings at 7pm. The center is open to all faiths, and for those interested in using mindful meditation practise for varying reasons. They are located at 3275 Heather Street. For more information go to www.vancouver.shambhala.org
 
The Listening Post
 
The Mindfulness Practice Community of Vancouver Meditation group meets every Monday evening at 6:30 p.m. at the Listening Post, located at 382 Main Street. This group meditates and studies the teaching of Zen Monk Thich Nyhat Hahn.

 

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