Take your demons and your gods to the mountain
and in your silence let them play,
to eventually wander off on their own
leaving you; to be.
When I announce to a friend group, via text, that I'm going on a ten-day silent(ish) retreat, my friend Glenn responds with the above verse. "Where did that come from?" I demand. "That's STILL/WILD in a poetic nutshell!" "From the ether," he replies. Some people, I am reminded, can do that. It's a rather last-minute decision, this retreat, born partly of desperation. I have a fairly regular STILL practice at this point, but I need to go deeper, I think. At the beginning of this year, my husband and I set out determinedly to establish better habits (eat better! Move more!) and, predictably, he is thriving. I, on the other hand, am struggling to keep up. I have autoimmune issues that are kicking my ass in spite of my best efforts, and I'm tired, still. But I have been cautious for so long that I've recently decided to do things differently. I've decided to stop being so relentlessly careful. We're working with a dear friend and personal trainer, and I'm determined to show up every week, even if I have to take two naps a day to recover. (Those of you who struggle with auto-immune-induced fatigue know all about exercise intolerance, yes?) I'm going to be careful, but less careful, and I'm going to keep pushing ahead... But I'm increasingly tired and rattled as a result. I haven't "crashed" in the way I used to, but I'm clearly in a hole and need to dig my way out, fast. What better way to dig out of a hole than to go on retreat?! Also, in an effort to feel better over the years, I've tried everything but the very strictest elimination diet, which is hard to do when I'm cooking for other people on the regular. This will be a prime opportunity. So I make plans at the Wyndham Hill resort in Fairfield Glade, TN - ten nights at $69/night (thereby blowing money I'd planned to spend on something else entirely) buy the requisite groceries (which doesn't take long), and head out, determined to come back with glowing skin and energy to spare. I arrive to find a well-appointed condo with a nice kitchen, big bathtub, and gas fireplace. Obviously, I'm not roughing it. *****
Four days in, my demons clearly have the upper hand. Part of the problem is that even though I have a fairly regular STILL practice, my deep inner life has gone untended for too long. Turning inward - for extended periods of time with no distractions - is like being forced to sit in a dank office in a strip mall; one with low ceilings and fluorescent lights. It's pretty bleak, honestly, and I wanna get outta here. That said, I've mostly been sleeping. I knew I was in a hole, but I had no idea how deep. It's been a long time since I've slept this much in one 48 hour period, and while I wish I could say it's been peaceful sleep - like a long, luxurious exhale - the truth is that I seem to have found ways of making even sleep stressful. I fall into bed thinking I should be doing something more constructive, and wake up tense. Not that those two things are related, necessarily - even on my best nights I wake up tense. My nervous system, it would seem, is stuck in STAY ALERT mode. Sigh. I have done a lot of breathing exercises since getting here, but I'm not sure if they're helping or not. Likely I'm trying too hard. Mostly I'm scared if I'm honest - that maybe my nervous system is shot for good; that there's no coming back; that I will always be tired and never robustly healthy and that I will never keep up with Jimmy. (Sometimes I honestly think I'd be better served by going to Vegas for the weekend and totally blowing it out. Drinking, gambling, eating whatever the hell I want. I'm actually serious. But alas, here I am. Trying; to be.)
I'll catch the wave, I think. It'll get better. I will say that removing all comfort food in addition to other various and sundry distractions, is a lot at once. I'm a fairly seasoned silent retreater and I can say, unequivocally, that this is HARD. I'm struggling. But I'm also sticking with it. I have managed to remember that I don't control the outcome; that I don't get to pre-order my retreat results (remember glowing skin and energy to spare? These things seem increasingly unlikely...) and I'm reminded (again) that the key is ACCEPTANCE. Maybe I'm stuck here forever, in this place of mind-numbing fatigue. I have moments, days, weeks of relative normalcy. Maybe that's all I get and that'll have to be enough. Then again, maybe those are my demons talking - dancing around my head and whispering in my ear because that's their idea of fun. Maybe, if I stop paying so much attention to them and go deeply into the silence, they'll get bored and wander off... One can hope.