Post by Frank Placone-Willey
Spiritual direction, generally speaking, refers to the professional practice of providing support and guidance to those who are seeking personal strength, healing, and/or transformation via a conscious exploration and application of those traditions and rituals with which they identify.
The work of spiritual direction explores and draws upon life experiences, values, practices, ultimate questions, and beliefs in order to ennoble, elevate, heal, liberate and expand human consciousness in its particular embodied and relational contexts. As Kenneth Leech, author of Soul Friend, suggests, it is rightly concerned with:
It is not about persuading someone to conform to a particular theological orientation or soteriological formula. It is not about saving people for some doctrinally established afterlife. It is not so much about the “director” giving advice; rather it is about a “soul friend” who—using spiritual resources at her or her disposal—wisely companions others in order to help them salvage and find a truer, and truly more fulfilling, direction for their lives upon this earth.
The work of spiritual direction is a journey through which the one journeying may actually have an immediate experience of the transcendent ground of being from which we have all emerged, and to which we may yet all return.
"The brain is the most complex and powerful organ, and like muscles, benefits from rest. UCLA research showed that regular times set aside to disengage, sit in silence, and mentally rest, improves the the 'folding' of the cortex and boosts our ability to process information."
From "10 Important Reasons to Start Making Time for Silence, Rest and Solitude" by Thai Nguyen
"The scientists discovered that when the mice were exposed to two hours of silence per day they developed new cells in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a region of the brain associated with memory, emotion and learning."
From "Science Says Silence is Much More Important to Our Brains Than We Think" by Rebecca Beris
"Solitude allows your body to catch up with your mind. In this crazy aggressive existence that most people live in, we’re always tilting forward — our minds are way out in front of our bodies, thinking, analyzing, and planning ahead. It’s only when you stop and get off the merry-go-round of daily life that your mind and body can once again get back into sync."
From "The Importance of Solitude for Happiness - For Dummies" by W. Doyle Gentry
"Used properly and constructively, retreat is both a useful, and necessary, means for supporting self-evolution. If undertaken with intention, and not as foil for wallowing or self-pity, it can be a powerful tool for bringing us to our own next level, becoming more fully present in both ourselves and our lives."
From "Psychological and Spiritual Benefit of Interior Retreat" by Michael Formica
"When you do not talk, you become more sensitive to your external environment. After a week of silence, Tijn Touber exclaimed, 'Never before had I felt such intense contact with everything around me – precisely because I hadn’t uttered a word. It was as if all my senses were wide open….'"
from "The Benefits of Silence" by Lloyd J. Thomas
Post by Sharon Wylie
The reflection below is from August 2014, when I attended my first substantive silent retreat. Attending that retreat prompted me to begin to image what a Unitarian Universalist retreat might look like, and the seeds were planted that would eventually become SpiritRest Silent Retreat...
Minister’s Message – August 2014
From Rev. Sharon Wylie
As part of my recent time off for vacation, I participated in a five-day silent retreat. Except for one hour each day with my spiritual director, I was silent from 7 p.m. Sunday evening until Friday morning (I left a few hours before the retreat officially ended at lunch time because I really felt done with the retreat center food.)
I thought that four full days of silence would be really difficult, but it turned out to be lovely. I learned that I spend a certain amount of time thinking about what I want to say, and of course, listening to others takes time and energy too. Freed from the obligations of talking and listening, I had more space for thoughts and emotions that had gone unnoticed.
And this was the first real retreat I think I’ve ever been on. I “retreat” with my fellow ministers in the fall and in the spring, but what we call “retreats” are actually “gatherings,” and we are scheduled from morning through evening. I usually come back exhausted (and grateful for the time with my colleagues, which is always important, if not as restorative as I might wish).
No, this was a real retreat. Outside of meal times, there was nothing I had to do. Even my time with my spiritual director was optional (and I did pass him a note one day to let him know I didn’t want to meet because I wanted to remain silent).
I walked the labyrinth each day. I colored a mandala one morning. I walked through the retreat gardens and spent quite a bit of time on my favorite bench. I read. I journaled a little, but not nearly as much as I had thought I might. I napped.
And the thing that surprised me most was how the days flew by. Each morning I would wake up and think, “How am I going to fill all the hours of the day?” And then it would suddenly be time for dinner. The week went unbelievably fast.
I thought a silent retreat would teach me about silence, but what I really learned about was time. Moving through time like floating on my back in the water, slowly, languidly, with no real sense of where I’m going or any urgency about getting there. The only difference between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. was the sun in the sky and the quality of light.
The retreat was a wonderful experience. I hope to keep some of what I learned about moving at a slower pace with me as I return to my regular life. And I hope the same retreat will be offered again next year. I would definitely go again.