What a treat it was! And a week did not seem long enough in the end.
Silence doesn't only mean "not talking". It means "not doing anything that will take you away from the ongoing meditation and stilling of the fluctuations of the mind". Pretty much no texting, emailing, reading the frivolous, like Facebook,. I didn't take a computer, and the only book I had was my handbag sized copy of the Yoga Sutras interpretively translated by Swami Venkatesananda, as it goes wherever my handbag goes. I did indeed open and read it on a few occasions at night and during the long afternoon breaks, finding that it could take me deeper, rather than taking me away.
Another text that might have also taken me deeper would have been the Radiance Sutras had I thought to take it. Many of the meditation practices we did on retreat were from the Radiance Sutras.
The retreat was titled "Embodied Awakening" and was led by a very talented teacher, Anne Douglas. The title indicates that the body itself is a gateway to awakening. As we come into a heightened sensitivity to information of the body we start to open all of our perception, including to the experiences that are beyond the body.
Through repeated body-sensing practices, meditation and Yoga Nidra, and by not interspersing this with the things that would take us away, we began to enter a more awake state. An awakeness that is awake no matter what the state of the body, awake even if the body sleeps, dreaming or dreamless, and awake in a vaster sense than ordinary wakeful states.
The Radiance Sutras are Lorin Roche's beautiful, modern, interpretive translation of the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra (c.800CE), a lovely text from the tradition of Kashmir Shaivism. The title of this post is taken from Sutra 156.
Let me share Sutras 155 -156 with you.
Into this body
As a nectar of the gods.
Every breath is a whisper
Of the Goddess:
"Here is the ritual I ask of you -
Be the cup
Into which I pour this bliss,
The elixir of immortal peace."
The breath flows out with the sound sa,
The breath flows in with the sound ha.
Thus thousands of times a day,
Everyone who breathes is adoring the Goddess.
Know this, and be in great joy.Perhaps you are put off by this talk of "the Goddess" so lets talk about that. Who is this Goddess?
Listen to the ongoing prayer that is breath.
Life shall dance in you
A dance of ever-renewing delight.
The text comes from the tradition of Kashmir Shaivism. The "Goddess" is, at a story-telling level, the consort of Shiva, who is sometimes called Parvati, but also is known as Shakti. But such terms are actually metaphorical. This God and Goddess are not personalities, they are the Universe, and they are in fact one. The Goddess is the energetic aspect of Consciousness that causes manifestation. In other words, Shakti causes Divine Consciousness to pulse, and matter to come into being. These concepts have a very nice correlation with astrophysics!
So everything is really Shiva-Shakti, and you can experience this, in your body. Your body becomes a pathway to knowing the Divine and a pathway to returning to the knowledge of your True Nature. So the 112 meditations of the Vijnana Bhairava are 112 gateways of the body to returning to your True Nature.
Here in these two sutras our gateway is the breath. "Be the cup into which I pour this bliss", be receptive to the breath, "be in great joy", "listen to the ongoing prayer", "life shall dance in you".
So next time you are lying quietly - in savasana at the end of your next yoga practice perhaps, or even in bed tonight, waiting for sleep, be receptive, open, listen, feel and quietly let this wondrous experience of the breath be meditation and prayer.
There is a poem about how I was feeling when I returned from retreat here.
You might also be interested in a previous post, Siva - Sakti.