I spent more than 48 hours of complete silence last weekend. I participated at a silent retreat — a time for recollection, prayer, reflection, and thanksgiving. Together with 14 other gentlemen, I didn’t engage in conversation, did a lot of reading, listened to talks and meditations, and just sat completely still.
Was it difficult? Of course.
Why did I do it? I needed it.
Will I do it again? In a heartbeat.
Before this, my last retreat was 2013. My 23-year old self had different thoughts and objectives — the core of it was how I would spend my life after graduation (I graduated in 2013). Fast forward to 2017 — my life still had more questions than answers.
I came out of the 2013 retreat blessed and empowered to face the professional world. I had a brand new sword and shield — ready to strike the forces of daily life.
Four years after, that sword and shield were rusted, bloodied, and battered. I needed to recharge. There are far bigger demons out there.
While I cannot divulge some details of the retreat (some are best kept to myself), I’d like to share three takeaway points that made a tremendous impact on my search for strength and enlightenment. These were spiritual batteries that took my soul to a higher level.
SILENCE CAN BE EXHAUSTING
I was keen on doing this retreat because of one thing — rest. The activities were all optional, although a big part of me didn’t want to miss out (of course, I didn’t pay for this retreat just to sleep and eat good food. I could have booked a hotel room instead). The retreat had a whopping total of 14 meditations preached by a priest. Each meditation lasted about 30 minutes. Each had its own topic.
After some activities, I looked at my schedule and said to myself, “Oh, I’ll just miss [insert activity here]. I’ll take that time to catch up on sleep”. Even on the holiest atmospheres, the demons still struck their swords. I ended up finishing the retreat doing all the activities. Talk about a victory.
To be honest, I still felt exhausted after that retreat. Someone responded to my emotion with a simple thought that I can’t help but ponder:
“It’s because God gave you something to think about”.
Yes, He did.
I took this opportunity to share my frustrations and anxieties about my professional life. I had so many questions coming in this retreat. Most of them were along the lines of, “why am I scared of what lies ahead?”, “after so much hard work and sacrifice, why am I still not seeing the fruits of my labor?” and the big question, “what does all of this mean?”. Things just got too real.
I picked up an article to read. The title said “Abandonment”. My article choice was arbitrary but I gave it a try. There were a couple of things that I picked up:
- Abandonment does not solve our problem but helps us face them.
- When we get discouraged, it is a sign that we rely on ourselves instead of relying on God.
Then, I heard one talk that truly complemented my reading of this article. This was the icing on the cake.
“Worrying does not take away tomorrow’s problems. It takes away today’s peace.”
This was a blessing disguise. Maybe I needed to work on this concept.
THE BATTLES OF LIFE CANNOT BE WON ALONE
Coming to this retreat, I wasn’t just thinking about myself, along with my struggles, victories, challenges, hopes, and dreams. I thought and prayed for others, too.
I spent one evening writing names of people that came to my mind. I filled my notebook with pages full of people’s names. These people came from different points in my life — people who used to have a role in my life, who I just met, who I had conversations with, who I worked with, and other contexts. It took about a couple of hours when I decided to stop and look at the list. I looked at each name and thought of a moment that I shared with this person. It could be as simple as a brief e-mail exchange or as heartfelt as sharing a meal or enjoying each other’s company.
This retreat taught me that, despite my futile attempts to find happiness, life here on Earth will never be easy. As I looked at my list, it gave me hope. In spite of life’s difficulties, I have hundreds (or even thousands) of reasons why I keep on moving, climbing . . and striving.
On y va!