A Week in Solitary; ‘Healing the blows of sound’

I recently returned from a week on silent, solitary retreat, staying in a small hermitage, set in an acre of its own woodland.  The ‘Kuti’ is a small timber frame construction with straw bale infill.  It is basic, but cosy and provides everything you need for a week of living simply.

There is a profound softening whilst spending time in such a way.  All life’s demands fall away, in particular those you set for yourself (or so it was for me).

From day one, I released myself from all need for the schedule, so carefully constructed before my departure for Devon, and simply ‘went with the flow’.

Each day was framed by the arrival and departure of darkness, as there is no electricity in the Kuti.  Between these times, I ate, read, meditated, chanted, practised yoga and sat on the veranda soaking in the surrounding nature.

The Kuti has a perfect meditation space at the back of the hut, complete with mat and cushion and this served well for early morning/late evening sessions whilst enfolded by a blanket of darkness and the surrounding woodland.

However, during daylight hours, I sought nature and took to the woods with my sheepskin rug to sit on.

At the far edge of the boundary fence, I found the perfect spot – a large beech tree provided a huge natural canopy.  Multiple layers of leaves, like a 3D tapestry, stretched above me, providing shelter in all weather.  This became my place of choice for the week.  I sat under those leaves for many an hour, with only an occasional squirrel for company and a solitary robin who enjoyed doing circuits around me, chirruping from every angle.

Modern day life is increasingly hectic, with little let up from the constant onslaught of news, social media and other stimulation.  I read a quote once that said ‘and silence, like a poultice, comes to heal the blows of sound’ (Oliver Wendell Holmes).  On my 2nd retreat day, I misjudged my timing and was just leaving the vegetable garden as all the retreatants from the main house (non-silent, non-solitary) arrived to carry out their morning ‘service’ in the garden.  Making my way quietly through their friendly, happy chatter, I felt a kind of assault on my ears.  It doesn’t take long to grow accustomed to silence and our souls, as well as our ears, crave the healing power of it.

The idea of silence unnerves many, and frightens some.  Yet it is only through silence that we can return to who we really are.  It is only then that true healing can begin.

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