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Posted May 16, 2006

Book: Retreat: Time Apart for Silence and Solitude
Author: Roger Housden
HarperSanFrancisco, NY. 1995. Pp. 217

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

Retreat is an invaluable primer on the religions, institutions, and retreat centers that focus on the value of meditation, silence, and awareness as the path to our deeper natures. In addition to a skillful outline ofthe rich traditions that teach the contemplative path, Housden provides a wide range of methods and approaches to the practice of retreat - from a walk in the woods to a three-year silent retreat in the mountains of Tibet. He equips the novice with a full range of information, and masterfully introduces the five factors that set the retreat apart from the affairs of daily living: silence, mindfulness, meditation, the retreat community, and the retreat leader.

Teaching the full value of spiritual retreat and showing that it is possible for everyone. Housden assures us: "You are permitting a return to yourself, and in that return you will begin to see yourself and your life with fresh eyes. For that return is a foretaste of the inner place of retreat which in truth is never far away - after all, it is none other than who you are."

An Excerpt from the Book:


There is a man in India call Chandra Swami who, more than twenty years ago, chose not to speak. He has not uttered a word since. He is one of the most vital, radiant people you could meet and, when asked why he still keeps his vow after all this time, writes simply that he has fallen in love with the silence. He no longer needs it as a discipline but can see no reason to abandon a source of continuing joy.

Twenty years may seem a little but the Swami is far from alone: to devote an extended period, even a whole lifetime, to silence, is a common practice among religious people of all traditions. The Swami's feeling of being in love with silence is shared by renunciates the world over. The rule of silence is integral to the Carthusian Order of catholic monks and is usual for some period of the day in religious orders of all denominations. A retreat for lay people, whether for a weekend or a year, is usually held all or partly in silence. Silence is one of the boundaries that sets a retreat apart from the affairs of daily living.

The reasons for this are simple. A period of silence allows us to be less involved in the social self, creating room for both the world beyond our immediate concerns and for the deeper reaches of our own being.

Silence proclaims the beauty and grandeur of life more eloquently than the tongue. We are normally too busy listening to our unceasing interior monologue to give undivided attention to what lies around us. There is a well-known meditation exercise that leads us into silence by encouraging us to listen more deeply to our surroundings. We start by sitting quietly in an erect and comfortable position, listening to our own breathing. We enlarge our listening to encompass the room we are sitting in. Slowly we listen for sound coming from elsewhere in the house. Then we include the sounds outside, the birds, the lawnmower, the traffic. By extending the range of our listening in this way the mind can become less obsessed with particular concerns and more sensitive to the space in which all sounds are happening.

Spiritual traditions of every kind perceive that space, or spaciousness, to be the fundamental nature of the mind itself. It is always there, in the gap between thoughts and beneath our words and, when we give time to listening for that silence, it is naturally more likely to reveal itself. This is why observing outer silence is an important aspect of a retreat: it helps us to enter the inner silence of our deeper nature.

Vivekenanda, the sage who first brought wisdom of India to the West at the turn of the century, said that silence was the loudest form of prayer. Ramana Maharshi, one of the greatest teachers that India has ever produced said, "Silence, which is devoid of the assertive ego, alone is liberation." He was referring to a merging with the silence that lies at the heart of every human being. Ramana considered silence to be the most direct teaching he could give his disciples. In this he was following an ancient tradition in India; the quasi-mythical teacher, Dakshinamuri, is reputed to have brought four learned sages to self-realization through the power of his silence. When Ramana was asked why he did not go about and teach the people at large, he replied, "What do you think of a man who listens to a sermon for an hour and goes away without having been impressed by it so as to change his life? Compare him with another, who sits in a holy presence and goes away some time with his outlook on life totally changed. Which is the better, to preach loudly without effect or to sit silently sending out inner force?"

Table of Contents:

The retreat leader

The Way of Knowledge
Zen Buddhism
Tibetan Buddism
Raja Yoga

The Way of the Heart
Bhakti Yoga

The Way of the Body
Tai Chi
Prapto Movement Work - the walk of life

The Way of Art
The awakened eye
Caroline MacKenzie

The Way of Sound
The Healing voice
The naked voice

The Way of the Wilderness
Journey into emptiness
The Upaya Foundation
The Tracking Project

The Solitary Way
The Three Years Tibetan Retreat