Last month at this time I was tucked away in the snowy Sawtooth mountains of Idaho for a five day silent meditation intensive. When I first read about it and saw in the description “must be prepared for and comfortable with extreme weather” my initial yes turned into an absolutely yes. I get that this is not everyone’s cup of tea; it might, in fact, send a lot of people running in the other direction. But after fifteen years of facilitating retreats— both in silence and otherwise— I was so ready to climb over a snowdrift, throw my bags into a Snowcat and head into the middle of nowhere to find out what was in store for me. We do not emerge from these immersive experiences the same as we entered. It’s fertile ground for big awakenings and transformation. I’ve watched it over and over. My turn.

In some ways, there was nothing especially surprising about the experience. Stepping into formalized silence is the equivalent of begging the universe to please, please push all of your buttons. Every single one you have. So the task is to go in prepared. To enter with nothing in your hands or heart but the inquiry: What is in there? To see and name the ghosts, ghouls and gremlins lurking in the shadows. Because once seen and named, they lose their power. Once seen and named, they give way for you to glimpse the truth of what else lies within.

I’m still processing what I found in those days of quiet stillness, but here’s a stream-of-consciousness list of notions I’ve collected so far.

  • Know your why.
  • Be careful where you put your expectations. They’re just waiting around the corner to ambush you with their showers of pre-meditated resentments.
  • Everything is converging for your awakening. Spoiler alert: you’re not going like all of it.
  • Stop with all the trying.
  • The light exists alongside the pain.
  • Trust your intuition. The voice is always there.
  • When you go on a vigilante style witch-hunt for answers, you will generally not find any. They see you coming from miles away and take deep cover. 
  • Everything is temporary. Your suffering will be proportionate to your clinging.
  • You are allowed to take up space. You are actually meant to take up space.
  • Stop perseverating on every WHY question the thought machine spits out for your review.
  • Reaching the edge of physical intensity is an express ticket to visit your mental and emotional instability. It’s not a fun holiday, but it is a trip worth taking from time to time.
  • Open to the bigness.
  • Because we spin we suffer. Not the other way around.
  • Stop trying to figure it out.
  • Would you rather be joyful or free?
  • The mind loves (is obsessed with) the possession of its own thoughts. 
  • The only real belonging is belonging to your Self.
  • Really. Stop trying so hard.
  • You cannot think your way into the kind of answers you seek.
  • Discomfort is not the enemy. It is not avoidable. Make friends with it.
  • Comparison is the thief of joy.
  • The point of this (this experience and this life) is to bring up your stuff. To engage or not is to suffer or not.
  • Let go.
  • Only through extended periods of stillness can you begin to dismantle the darkness within.
  • The obstacle and the vehicle to freedom are the same: the body.
  • All of the trying is getting in the way.
  • You get to choose. All the time.
  • Things have no meaning but the meaning you give them.
  • Embrace the mystery. And. It’s all the mystery.
  • Surrender. Over and over and over again.

I’ve made a consistent effort to stay connected to the spaciousness and clarity that came to me during those silent, snowy days. I’ve created a new linkage in my daily practice here at home to start by remembering what it is to be spacious and clear. And then to begin again. Over and over.

I’m as committed as ever to continue offering opportunities for others to enter into the silence and I’ll be jumping on any chance I get to step back into the big wide open. It’s the gateway to everything we’re searching for.