Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Power of Silence

The retreat was GREAT!

At first I was hesitant since we have two children under the age of ten. I was not sure how they were going to respond to the fact that we did the retreat silent, especially my five year old, Sydney.

The only way the kids could communicate with us was through them asking us questions verbally and the adults responding through body lanuage, cavemen grunts of no or yes (which sounded more like we had a mouth jam packed with popcorn...try it sometime) or notes written on paper. After a few successful tries, they seemed to adopt our new communication styles perfectly and they even tried communicating to each other the same ways.

What was even more beautiful was the way the kids all got along. It seemed that without the parents being able to play referee or troubleshoot their problems, they just decided to take the ownership on figuring out how to do something and even better, conflict resolutions between them as they arose. I didn't notice as much bickering, name calling and tears. I think they knew that "mom and dad" could not verbally console them, so why pick on each other in the first place. (Now that is not to say if one cracked their head open, we wouldn't rush to help them.) They just realized the skills they had to communicate with each other worked without us.

What also made the retreat realistic was the time away in "session" and the quality time we spent with the kids. There were two, two hours sessions each day. When we were in session they had a familiar adult come to babysit and to talk with, play and do play video game with. When we were out of session, the house rules were no tv, no cell phones and NO TV! Instead we played games, did crafts (easy one, not Martha Stewart style) color, make paper buildings with computer paper and staples, and make puzzles. It was easier than I thought, not to mention the smiles and bonding time we had.

In the end, it was worth it 110%. I will for sure do this again. The funny part is, the whole time we were silent with each other, it always seemed like we were talking with each other. I guess what I mean is...if I had to think back the non-verbal communications seemed so real in my head. The power of the mind is an explosive tool.

Post written by Beth M.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Sweet Smell of Sucess

After our first attempt at doing a silent retreat, I thought this is not possible. Sheshadri, Annamika and I headed to Diamond Mountain for a three day silent retreat just after Thanksgiving in 2007. We were going to be staying at the original historic house on the property and had brought everything we thought we needed for retreat. We were getting away from the TV, the computers and the crowds at the shopping malls. I naively thought how amazingly beautiful this was going to be!

We did have some intensely sweet and wonderful moments, but as a practical application of doing silent retreat it fell short. Most people experience retreat as silence punctuated by a noise of a bird here and there. Our retreat was noise punctuated by the sweet sound of silence here and there! Annamika was just not interested in being quiet! She did everything she could think of to pull her parents out of their committed silence. I thought of demanding, cajoling, bribing her to be silent and realized that none of that would truly work. She would need to decide when and how she was going to be silent.

So, Sheshadri and I got very little time for our practice of yoga, mediation and mantra. We ended up taking turns and in the end we were both exasperated. As you can see in the before and after photos. In the top photo, Sheshadri and I look radiant about going into retreat. Annamika looks sullen. In the photo to the right Shesh and I look utterly exhausted and Annamika is just posing for one last photo so we can get out of there!

I was asked recently by one of my teachers to try again. To find a way to make it possible. These teachers of ours always know where to push! Reluctantly, I started thinking about how to make it actually work for all of us. Luckily, I had a wonderful conversation with a friend who had taken her family to a retreat center in France while they were living in England. The place was completely set up to support families doing retreat together with their children, with other families and still have time to do their practice. Thinking about that model I started to brainstorm and came up with a plan.

Sheshadri was a little reluctant at first and then when I suggested the other family, he was hooked. Our dear friends, Beth and Tim, spend practically every holiday with us. We've been lucky enough to have become their adopted family. We don't have any family in the area and it's sooo sweet to connect with such amazing people. Luckily, Tim and Beth study with many of the same teachers and there was a strong harmony between our children. After speaking with Beth and Tim about the idea, I started making plans.

We used Tim and Beth's second house in Wilcox, AZ . I set up a practice schedule and then rounded up some wonderful people to hang with the children while we were in session. Even Annamika got excited about asking people to come help us in our pursuit. We started on New Year's eve with a party - music, dancing, the ball drop in Times Square, confetti and of course a wonderful dinner to start the whole evening off with a bang!

During the retreat, I was relaxed, happy, silent and got more practice time over 3 days than I can usually get in a month! Annamika was happy to have friends and times where she could just be the kid that she is! Beth gave me a huge grin and the thumbs up sign half way through.

I knew that we really had made it work and be a huge success when Beth and Tim were debating over our final lunch together in Benson on the way back to Tucson. Tim wanted to plan to do a family retreat 3 times a year and Beth was only up for 2 times! Well, that's certainly better than my reluctance to ever try and do it again!

Stay tuned for more details and story about this silent family retreat. Please e-mail me with any stories you may have about doing family retreat. I would love to post them with your permission of course. Plus, Beth, Tim and Sheshadri were asked to post their own stories on this blog about our time together. We're waiting......