“Solitude is one of the most precious things in the human spirit. It is different from loneliness. When you are lonely, you become acutely conscious of your own separation. Solitude can be a homecoming to your own deepest belonging.” ~ John O’Donohue
In the spring of 2019, I attended a retreat that began on the fall equinox and ended on the winter solstice in the mountains of Guatemala.
Within these three months, we dove into topics of esoteric studies, like the Kabbalah Tree of Life, tarot, and astrology, with the daily practice of meditation and yoga. Half that time, 40 days were experienced in complete silence with only meditation and yoga offered to the group.
In those 40 days, I gained an extra ear of perceptivity and awareness. I was living in the highlands wrapped around a great lake with active volcanoes across the way, giving off the feels of a tropical island. Among the retreat center, sacred sites were placed, where a Buddha or Mother Mary sculpture would sit, for a place to contemplate, pray, or meditate. The land felt tended with an energy for people to experience a sense of a holy place.
As a temple, church, or garden can be, it felt designed to directly connect to the sacredness of our nature. Whether the studies were engaged with or not, the intention of showing up was different for everyone. Some seek to engage with their imagination, in creating, inventing, catalyzing a moment, or an idea. Some arrive spontaneously or follow synchronicities, not planning on bumping into a mystery school along their travels—simply curious.
Part of the focus in the retreat was around our night dreams and lucid dreaming. The number of lessons and experiences received through the “astral” (the place that can be visited when we sleep) offered a deeper understanding of oneself and refined my ability to become conscious in a dream. We can access our subconscious in different ways, and this offers a path to receive information or support at any point, like asking questions before going to sleep and seeing what dreams and messages are given.
“Dreams are compensatory; they provide a mirror into the deep unconscious most often reflecting what is lost, and what is yet needed for correction and balance. Through dreams, the unconscious constantly produces teaching images. So, like a fabled lost continent, the wild dreamland rises out of our sleeping bodies, rises steaming and streaming to create a sheltering motherland over all of us. This is the continent of our knowing. It is the land of our Self.” ~ Clarissa Pinkola Estés
Those 40 days were indescribable in some ways. The level of perspective shift felt deep and unformed, yet moving, uncovering treasures wrapped in all kinds of emotions and triggers. The feeling of taking a peek behind the veil of my mind and hearing a voice once so soft, sometimes too soft to be felt in the loud terrains of my thoughts, in the bustling of life, now became a palpable sound that rose up to the surface.
The gifts of solitude are deeply enriching. Layers of lessons unfolded at my feet, where my senses sharpened, feeling a whole new freedom in my body from the torment of the traps of my mind, where I needed to witness what fears were with me. Alone and in contemplation gave more room for active listening. Compassion held a lantern of light in the darkest moments of descent into my inner world.
Whether through a retreat or spending time alone throughout the day to nourish our inner selves through our creative outlets or even just sitting and paying attention to our breath, it is a crucial experience to have as human beings. In this fast-paced world, where the gas pedal is pressed so hard and so often, the present is almost forgotten.
Solitude gives time for the soul to rise into our minds and to feel ourselves grounded, taking space in our body and in the environment around us, feeling whatever it is that fuels the passion of love in our bones. It conjures a state of receptivity and self-reflection that feeds the deepest parts of our hungry soul.
In that solitude came sharing the bundle of medicine gathered in the dark woods of my psyche to the deep dive of connection with the source and center of creation.
The ebb and flow of our path is like the cycles of the seasons, moving in and out, like our breath, like a pendulum that moves back and forth. We need to take time for ourselves to feel the “river beneath the river,” the sacred that holds everything together.
“Each woman has potential access to Rio Abajo Rio, this river beneath the river. She arrives there through deep meditation, dance, writing, painting, prayer making, singing, drumming, active imagination, or any activity which requires an intense altered consciousness. A woman arrives in this world-between-worlds through yearning and by seeking something she can see just out of the corner of her eye. She arrives there by deeply creative acts, through intentional solitude, and by practice of any of the arts.” ~ Clarissa Pinkola Estés
There is a difference between living in the mountains and simply visiting the mountains. Spending time with our inherent nature, getting to know ourselves in a different space for some time is one piece. The other piece is to then come back down from the mountains and meet life with a refreshed point of view, sharing our gifts along the way. Inner discoveries are the minerals etched in the soul.
Integrating into life again was a process in itself, and I knew it wouldn’t be the same. Being aware that the experience of normal everyday life would continue, I felt a deeper reference to a foundation that was always there, but not felt this viscerally.
I’m still a messy human being who gets triggered, regresses into immature states of reacting, and spills the fuel of my fire in a way that can be hurtful. That’s life, and it’s okay. It’s part of the experience. Becoming more skillful in how we can meet ourselves where we are, with a sincerity and desire to take care of our being, is a huge part of the journey. It is how we choose to water ourselves and tend to our minds and bodies, our heart and spirit. It starts with simple observation to begin the process of initiating a wider lens to experience ourselves and the world.
Silence and solitude gifted me a window to listen with a clarity I’ve never had before. Giving me glints of my blind spots and distorted perceptions, helping me harness and anchor presence with breath, and reminding me of the true power of love.
Onward! May our feet continue to walk on the path of sincere inquiry of body and spirit.