A Pebble Meditation on a silent retreat

“We become so absorbed in our flaws and faults that we forget that it is better to be a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.” ― Forrest Curran,

When is see that there is a silent retreat being offered I try to attend. Recently, a silent retreat day was planned at a small village on the banks of the river Thames at Hurley. It is a beautiful little English village, with the main pub going back to the early 1300’s. The main street going down to the river is lined with mansions and large houses.

Now, before I lose you entirely, you are going to have asked yourself, what on earth is a silent retreat? It is an opportunity for you to spend some time, normally a day, without the trappings of the modern world. No TV. No radio. No mobile phones. No books, magazines or even newspapers. In fact. Nothing, but you and a group of other like minded people spending time in silent contemplation. There is a facilitator who leads the day, but mostly, it is in silence. Total. Absolute. Silence.

Have you ever spent time with other people in silence? It can be a very disconcerting thing. One of the pieces of advice is to not look at other people; not to acknowledge them; or indicate a gratitude if for instance, someone holds the door open for you. I know you are thinking, “how weird”, but trust me, when you have experienced a retreat day, you do get a completely different perspective on life.

There are breaks during the day and a lunchtime break as well, but for the whole time, you are supposed to not speak at all. The facilitator leads mindfulness practices, both spoken and silent. At the end of the day, you come together and share your experiences of the day before you leave.

Halfway through the morning, we took a break and since it was a sunny day, most of the group went outside in the garden of the hall we were in. One of the observations we all shared at the end of the day was how intense we felt. How focused. Someone talked about looking at the bark of a tree. Another commented on how beautiful a butterfly was. I sat against a wall and observed a fallen fig from a fig tree. The colours. The texture. How it felt. Mindfulness helps you to focus, in the present moment, and the practices of the morning had certainly helped.

During the afternoon, the facilitator shared a practice I had never experienced before; “The Pebble Practice”. Some people sat in chairs, some, including me, lay on the floor.  The practice involves the facilitator describing placing a pebble in a well, and you observing, as the pebble slowly descends. Not at what you would consider to be a fast speed, but slowly, observing the pebble turn in the water, noticing its colours and textures. Then you are asked to imagine the pebble pausing and observing your feelings and emotions at that point. You do this three times and each time observe how you feel and your emotions. After the practice, we were asked to write down what each of us had felt. It was lovely to see that nearly everyone wrote similar words. Words such as “peace”. “Trust” and “Love”.

The day concluded with small group discussions on what we had experienced during the day; how we were feeling and the effects of the various practices. I would throughly recommend that you experience a silent retreat day, both to help deepen your experience of mindfulness, but to also to help you feel more connected and in the present moment.

If you have experienced a silent retreat day, do share your experiences.  

I leave you with the following quote:

“There are moments in life, when the heart is so full of emotion

that if by chance it be shaken, or into its depths like a pebble

Drops some careless word, it overflows, and its secret,

Spilled on the ground like water, can never be gathered together.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


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