Michelle Sieg

A semi-silent retreat (and lots of talks with myself)

By - Feb 13th, 2010 05:08 am

Last week I spent five days in a hermitage at a spirituality center on the west side of the state. These are a few of my very honest — and definitely unscripted — moments.

solituderidgeTuesday, 4:47 p.m.
Just in from hiking. It’s snowing pretty hard but not enough to fill the tracks of whoever hiked here earlier today. This place is called Solitude Ridge, so I’m glad I didn’t actually see the mystery person. We would have then been forced to decide whether to say hello. And for all I know, that person’s on a silent journey as well.

After a pretty decent hike up, down and along the ridge, I paused for a moment to catch snowflakes on my tongue. It was a very “Charlie Brown Christmas” moment. Then, without even thinking, I removed my mitten, knelt down and scooped some new, cold snow from the top, fluffy layer. It tasted like nothing, not even like water, but I found it amazingly refreshing.

As I climbed the last hill to the flatland, I tried to remember the last time I’d eaten pure snow. When was the last time it would even have been safe to do so?

Tuesday, 8:27 p.m.
Enjoying milk and cookies and thinking about going to bed soon. Even though I live alone normally, being alone out here is different.

siegfoodWednesday, 6:44 a.m.
Breakfast was delicious. It was a modest meal of mushrooms, spinach, scrambled eggs and veggie sausage. But all the flavors were especially vibrant this morning, after a full eight hours of sleep that were preceded by a quiet evening of reading in front of the fireplace.

The one thing I haven’t yet done on this retreat is pray. I think I’m afraid to. What would happen if I really, truly meditated (including turning off my mobile phone’s Facebook app)? What if I really, truly sought the answers instead of insisting I already have them? And what if I really, truly gave all my troubles to God?

I’ve seen how damaging my resistance to help can be. It’s caused me to be inconsistent in relationships —  where one day I’m my normal, problem-solving, can-do-anything self and the next, I grow too weary to tackle even the most ordinary tasks. One woman even called my ups and downs “disturbing.” Even though I’ve moved on from that relationship, I’m not yet over that comment. It cut me deeply. Maybe it’s because the truth hurts. Or maybe it’s because the one truth I really need to learn is that I’m worthy of unconditional love — inconsistencies and all.

Wednesday, 6:39 p.m.
I realize I have some unresolved relationship anger. And since I’m publishing this journal, I’m going to leave it at that without drudging up ten years’ worth of relationship junk. But I will say this — I blame myself for a great deal of my own and other people’s heartache. I’m pretty sure I take on more than my share of all that, but that’s also mine to own and nobody else’s.

Thursday, 2:26 a.m.
It’s two o’ clock in the morning, and I’ve crawled out of bed just long enough to do some journaling. Strangely, I’m kind of happy to be awake at this hour. It’s very telling – the things you think about in the middle of the night, when your guard is down and your subconscious has forgotten its manners.

Thursday, 8:15 p.m.
Just back from happy hour(s) at The Ridge Bar & Restaurant where I proposed a toast to some brand-new friends named Jeff and Cindy. It was eight years ago today that the two divorcees went to Vegas and tied the knot for round two of matrimony.

Then I met Todd, who also had his mind on marriage. Except there’s one problem — the broad is marrying some other dude. After seven years with Todd, the B wasn’t ready, but now she’s going to walk down the aisle with someone she’s only known a year. Ouch.

So I did what I had to do. On the bartender’s recommendation, I bought Todd a snakebite shot, which sounded like a fittingly great idea, but probably wasn’t. Keep in mind, I just met Todd, so for all I know he’s the jerk who made his relationship go south. But in the spirit of the here and now, I was his cheerleader and he was mine. (He did, however, refuse to introduce me to his hot and very young-looking mom.)

Friday, 4:47 a.m.
This morning, like every other morning, the first thing I wanted to do was turn on my Facebook phone app. And then fire up this laptop. Even though I know I can’t, I secretly wish I could log on to the Internet — and more specifically, my life back home. It makes me wonder if email, the web and even my job are my crutches … Are they my strategy for never feeling alone in the world? And what void am I really trying to fill?

Friday, 8:03 p.m.
It’s my last night at Solitude Ridge, and I’m still feeling very nourished by the noodle soup from lunchtime. (It’s amazing how even the simplest food can be so fulfilling when you’re on a retreat.)

I had a quiet day of reading, painting, hiking and just “being.” But the big challenge came as night fell. For quite a while I’ve known that I’m not exactly a night person … I tend to manage my emotions poorly when I’m overtired, which usually occurs around 8:30 p.m. or later. But  I’m starting to suspect something else about the nighttime — I think I’m afraid of it.

This is not about being afraid of the dark. It’s about being uncomfortable when it’s noticeably quiet. I think it’s why I’m inclined to go to the gym at night and if I’m not there, I’m out with a friend for food and drink. Failing that, I’m at my neighborhood pizza place where everybody really does know my name. Or I’m at home working.

Oh my gosh. I think I’m afraid of being alone, which would certainly explain a lot of my false starts with relationships. When you combine my fear of being alone with my tendency to push too hard for what I want, it’s easy to see how I’ve created a dating repellent of sorts.

(This “a-ha” moment for me is probably not that surprising to those who know me well. But I’m just glad I finally processed it so I can do something about it.)

snowytrailSaturday, 8:03 a.m.
I’m headed home shortly, and I have mixed feelings about that. On one hand, I’m eager to get back to my normal life. On the other, I’m sure more days of relaxing and reflecting would give me even more clarity, which would be welcome.

One pact I made with myself while hiking in yesterday’s snow flurries, frigid wind and dropping temperatures, was to forgive and forget. In fact, I forced myself to stay out on the trails until I could reconcile a few things that have been distracting me for a while. (It’s so like me to put that off until the last day!)

I wish I could share the specifics but they’re pretty private, plus I don’t think they’re important to my readers. What is important is that as soon as I truly became quiet I finally heard some answers.

Please use the comments section below to tell me about some of your retreats — and what you’ve heard when you’ve become silent enough to hear.

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us