Retreat into Stillness

Stillness drawing with non-dominant hand


I went on a silent retreat to learn about the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the 4th Century; to learn more about total, sustained stillness. It was a book of the collected sayings of the Fathers that initially interested me. It intrigued me the way these Fathers remained so silent and so immobile for so long (life times). I was drawn to them. To what they were doing. I read they developed a deep sense or awareness of their feelings and perhaps what others felt, too, deep down. They became aware of things we never touch the surface of. Perhaps I romanticized them. But we do move too fast, talk too much, eat too much, filling all the empty spaces.


Finding Stillness

Some things I learned: you can only face up to yourself when you confront your heart without any hiding place; when you have done that, you know peace. John Chryssavgis wrote, “We come to self-knowledge through stillness, and silence, and attentiveness and watchfulness. When words are abandoned, a new awareness arrives.” (In the Heart of the Desert, p. 45)


This is what I wanted. I had 3 1/2 days. I doubted I would get far, but I’d dip my toe in.


There was another aspect that involved Intention. What was my intention for the retreat? I didn’t have to think long to tell the Brother, who would be my guide, that I wanted to discern what to eliminate from my too busy life and head (since I knew I’d never end up in a cave).


I was provided with a room, desk, wooden chair, bed, and bureau. I had a lock on my door and remained silent, except to talk, once a day, to my retreat director. On other retreats during the day I practiced following the breath, sometimes with a mantra. I almost seemed to float during those times.


This was different.


I brought my iPhone so my family could get in touch if they needed to. (Big mistake.) Not that they got in touch at all. It was my problem. I saw an email from someone who takes care of posting my words on my blog.


It simply involved something that she could see on my blog and I couldn’t. I became obsessed with this technical problem, although I knew nothing about technical solutions. There was something obsessive about this. I was truly agitated. Agitation was not tolerated in the desert, I remembered.


Of course I’d read that the Fathers and Mothers had demons to wrestle with (demons within themselves) but I had never imagined mine would involve the Internet.


I dwelt in frenzy — just the opposite of what I’d experienced before in retreats or my own practice.


I participated in more emails that soon involved a third person, my webhost.


I then put my iPhone under my clothes in a drawer, as if it were an illegal substance—and maybe it is—or at least what it did to me should be withheld. No slow hand written words—thought carefully through and put to paper with ink with no chance of a response for days. Instead, addictive words flew back and forth and back and forth like they never could before. Technology and the Internet had seen to that. And, I’m hunt and peck typing with a stylus on an iPhone—like punching something over and over. Fast and hard words. Can they break . . . these words?


No, but I can break using them this way. Having them come at me this way.


But, of course, this was my demon and I had to fight. With patience, they said. I had little of that.


The Desert Fathers and Mothers insisted on discipline. I had little of that, as well.


These were all opportunities to practice. Well, I still had my iPhone hidden in a drawer under my clothes.


Maybe what I experienced in a rocky spiritual afternoon was just an exaggeration of what I was retreating from in my everyday life.


So, I drew a picture of what I was feeling, wrote a left-handed confession and took pictures of some little cards in the Retreat House that represented what I wanted. And, I began to calm down. The breath came and went and I settled for the rest of the retreat.



After two more days I wasn’t sure what had happened, but I had found my retreat rhythm and inner stillness. On Saturday morning it was time to go home. I got what I had come for.


I got word, on Monday, that over the weekend my website had experienced an attack that my webhost had averted, but my site had to be shut down over the weekend.


Gone into silence. Into stillness . . .


joy, generosity, and gratitude cards


 Please leave a comment if you wish  . . .





Take Yourself on Vacation Everyday


“Stillness feels like knots of static straightening out —releasing, smoothing, flowing on and on . . . carrying me, resting me, loving me!”



The breath is portable. This is both obvious and a surprise.


Obvious because you are always breathing. A surprise because you could be using the breath to: calm yourself, relax, protect yourself from chaos. You could use the breath to experience stillness. To take yourself on vacation everyday.


Even if you don’t want to get away, following the breath will help you to stay present and to respond from a calmer, wiser, more creative place.


But how? How do you take this place into your life?


You take it by practice. A little at a time. You will be practicing stillness, too as they come together.


Start with 3 minutes (or more if you have a practice already) of following the  breath In and Out.


You can say to yourself “In” on the in breath and “Out” on the out breath. Notice that after you do this for however long you decide, you feel more “still” inside.


A Maine artist, Joy Vaughan, has created an installation, that seems a physical representation of this stillness (picture below). The outside is covered with a great accumulation of her “to do” lists. The inside has several images and writings of her favorite dreams, for her the night’s version of the Stillness.


So what will you do with your next batch of “to do” lists to come your way?


To be continued….


Putting Experiences into Written Words



You can’t go back and change the past, but through writing you can change your understanding of it, and in that way you can heal it. In the present you can gain clarity and/or acceptance  of what is happening through writing. Gabriele Rico, Writing the Natural Way and James Pennebaker, Opening Up, each pioneers of the field, claim putting experiences into written words is healing in itself.

Finding Your New Voice



After you’ve had cancer, who you are changes; you have to find a new voice.


The Writing and Healing sessions will help you find it and write your stories. This voice tells you (and others if you wish) who you are and what you need to heal. To flourish. And as you write and share and breathe, in meditation and stillness, this voice gains clarity and carries its tune with more confidence and strength. It becomes a poet, a jokester, and a mythmaker. It embodies the resilient you. It becomes the best storyteller you will ever know, for you alone know what your stories are and what they mean.


Writing Can Change the Brain

The 90’s gave us lots of information about a healthy, active brain through advances in technology.  We are able to study the brain and know that each experience and thought literally alters the neurons in our brain.  You can make new neural pathways and change your experience of an event by changing your understanding of it.  Writing can literally change the brain. (See Mind Wide Open by Steven Johnson)

How to Find a Safe Place

What if I told you that you could find the peace of a Safe Place in about fifteen minutes — no matter where you were — then asked if you wanted it?


I bet you would seriously think about it.


Then, what if I said each time you went to your Safe Place it would be easier to get there and offer more relaxation and release of stress?


You might not believe me.


But I have seen it happen and I can get you there.  Or, you can get yourself there with the Writing & Healing book and meditation CD.




“All these years writing about “safe place” and often — or at least for the past 8 years or so — it’s been inside of me. But today it is also in nature. I am stunned by beauty this year. Has it never been Spring before? Has it ever been so full of color? From the faintest pink to the explosion of new green – just beginning green. It makes me happy, grateful, peaceful, hopeful – the same things I feel when I have been practicing mindfulness regularly.”
(from participant of a Writing and Healing workshop, Safe Place session)