A Case for Silent Retreat

By Lee Sauerhoff, Esq., MSW
Executive Director of Westchester Meditation Center

“The practice of meditation helps to sharpen our minds and allows us to see and experience things, much more directly, by going along with the breathing and getting extraordinarily bored. There is nothing else happening when you practice, other than your breath and your body and the flickering of thoughts and visual entertainment. Even those flickers eventually become somewhat uninteresting. When the mind has no outside entertainment, interestingly enough, it becomes much sharper.

“The purpose of the practice of meditations is to experience the gaps. We do nothing, essentially, and see what that brings – either discomfort or relief, whatever the case may be. The starting point for the practice of meditation is the mindfulness discipline of developing peace. The peace we experience in meditation is simply the state of doing nothing, which is experiencing the absence of speed.

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche

One of the fundamental characteristics of living a more present, peaceful life is not being bombarded and distracted by thoughts. Thoughts are fueled by stimulation, daily noise, interactions, and entertainment, whether wanted or unwanted.

While we can take breaks by shutting off devices, soothing ourselves, and vacationing, we cannot vacation from our minds. When we return from our break, we find our mental state has not changed, and we long for more soothing, instead of feeling contentment.

If we are interested and motivated to develop a calm-abiding mind everywhere we go, we must give our mind a place of space to focus and develop awareness, limiting the noise of our everyday world. True peace is when we know our minds honestly and clearly and make friends with ourselves through the practice of meditation, as was recommended by Westchester Meditation Center’s root teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.

The more we extend our time in silent meditation, the more we connect with our true nature, giving rise to a natural, internal growing sense of genuine freedom and joy that is present in our unencumbered awareness, no matter the location.

Yet, to sit in meditation requires the courage to not perpetually self-soothe and comfort. It requires perseverance, patience, and perhaps, most of all, the right environment to cultivate deep, intentional silence and stillness.  A silent retreat is one of the best ways to cultivate this stillness, allowing full permission to break from the daily, noisy demands of our lives, and just be.  Even if we can meditate daily, we strengthen our daily practice through the challenge of retreat.

The beauty of a meditation retreat is it is unique to each individual, as well as dependent on the level of diligence.  Like anyone who enjoys the ocean, some stay at the beach, some sail the surface, and others plunge into the deep unknown, fearlessly.  We choose our experience and support that experience with our level of bravery, determination, and skill.

But we cannot begin our discovery if we never leave the parking lot. Similarly, we cannot know the adventure of a silent retreat unless we try it.

Silence is essential.

We need silence,

Just as much as we need air,

Just as much as plants need light.

If our minds are crowded with words and thoughts,

There is no space for us.

— Thich Nhat Hanh

Lee Sauerhoff, Esq., MSW, began her meditation journey about 20 years ago, independently exploring the basic tenets of Buddhism through books and magazines. She joined WMC in 2016, formerly entered the Path, and continues to study and deepen her practice, primarily focused on the Kagyu and Nyingma lineages of Tibetan Buddhism. She has served as the Executive Director of WMC since 2021 supporting and creating opportunities for mindfulness-awareness meditation, study, and practice for others. She co-facilitates the Community Meditation and the Family Meditation programs at WMC. lee@westchestermeditationcenter.org.

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