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  • Writer's picturemaggiehsmith07

Wheel of Chaos

Yesterday, I attended a silent retreat. I'd intended to attend a weekend silent retreat in 2023 but instead battled a cold, cough, and earache that lingered for weeks.

I'd never attended a silent retreat before so a day long session seemed a better way to ease into it rather than committing to an entire weekend of silence. I didn't know the agenda prior to arriving at Serenity Farm, which was probably just as well.

I don't know much about Serenity Farm. It's owned by a woman named Gail who grants access to her 109 acres to various groups. There are carvings on the property by an African American man by the name of Kevin Johnson. Gail permits photographs of the property but asks that people not take pictures of her home - which is gorgeous from the outside. I'm curious about Gail.

Serenity Farm is located near Goochland, Virginia - a town name that makes me laugh. Andrea and I once attended a show by comedian Fortune Feimster in Richmond and Fortune asked the crowd if they'd grown up in Richmond. "GOOCHLAND!" A woman yelled. That got Fortune's attention, "Wait. Goochland? For real? That's a place?" Indeed it is and yesterday was my first time to Goochland which is approximately a 30-ish minute drive from Richmond. As soon as you exit the highway, Goochland welcomes you with Trump signs and signs for every other Republican in the state who's running for re-election. I'd just seen a commercial for a candidate by the name of Bob Good, and declared to Andrea, "Bob Good is not good."

I followed the dusty road down onto the farm and missed where I was supposed to go. I was about to drive down a path in the woods when I realized that could not be right. I re-read the email by the organizer and back tracked.

The leaders welcomed us to "the nest" a small, garage like building where a circle of chairs were set up for the participants. The two-garage doors were open and a gentle breeze blew throughout much of the day. The leaders got the day underway and the one said, "This is Goochland. I live here. You will hear gunshots. It's off the property - you're safe." And I tried to imagine living in Goochland as an African American woman - I don't think I'd want to.

The other woman said, "OH! And let me tell you where the toilet is and give you information about that - think of it as part of the experience!"

The toilet is a compostable toilet - so it doesn't flush. Instead, you "toss a shovel full of the composting agent atop your business." The woman added, "... and, there are two steps - like a step ladder up to the toilet. You'll see. If it's too much - just grab some toilet paper and you can do your business behind a tree. It's just us out here." Huh. I thought, and remembered asking my former work colleague, Mary Dewling, if she'd ever want to go to Kripalu with me in Western MA. Mary was like, "God no! You probably sleep on cots! It seems too crunchy there!" I tried to assure Mary this wasn't the case and she suggested we consider the Lenox Wellness Retreat Center where we would most assuredly not be sleeping on cots given the cost. To date, I've never been to Lenox but I have been to Kripalu numerous times. I smiled to think if Mary were with me at this place, hearing the toilet story.

Once introductions were completed and intentions for the day were shared by participants, participant speaking was over for the day and we were left with the voices in our own heads and those of our two leaders. There is a Buddhist concept called "monkey mind" - which describes a state of mind that is restless, easily distracted, and lacks control. In reality, it's our natural state of being. Brains are meant to think thoughts. But when sitting to meditate, the term "monkey mind" comes to me unbidden. I imagine a small, cartoon monkey quickly swinging from vine to vine, each vine representing a thought.

During the initial meditations, my thoughts came quick and noisily. Thinking, judging, and living in the future.

"What am I going to wear on my work trip? Do I have dress pants that will fit? I've lost some weight...."

"The one participant looks like Gabourey Sidibe..."

"Ugh. That one woman sure is full of herself."

There is one man among the 15 of us, which makes me wonder why the women are the ones leaning into introspection and silence.

A poem titled, The Quiet Power, by Tara Mohr is read and my brain latches onto the line referencing, "the wheel of chaos".

And I came to know that this was it.

The quiet power.

I could give something mighty, lasting,

that stopped the wheel of chaos,

by tending to the river inside,

keeping the water rich and deep,

keeping a bench for you to visit.

The wheel of chaos. Slowing or even temporarily pausing that wheel is why I do things like meditate. And meditating with a group is even better, in my opinion. One of our leaders shares that one of her mentors says this is solitary work that cannot be done alone.

We practice various types of meditations, all familiar to me, but the experience is always new. I lie on my yoga mat under a tree as we do a body scan, and my body aches from yet another tumble I've taken on the buckled sidewalks in my neighborhood.

Before long, I realized I could not put off the bathroom experience. I made my way over and braved the small ladder, which slid away from me as I settled onto the throne.

"OH MY GOD!" I shrieked - so much for silence.

I use the term throne literally as the toilet was very high. I vow not to use it again. But after a relaxing lunch beside the pond, I realize I have no choice. This time seems a little less treacherous. Throne of chaos.

We practice walking meditation - solitarily and together. I first tried walking meditation at Kripalu years ago where I struggled to downshift my normal speed walk to a slow, deliberate, intentional pace. I'm less terrible at it this time and focus on what I can see, smell, and hear. A smell similar to sweetgrass fills the air, birds sing, and insects hum.

Before I know it, it's 3 PM and our time together has ended and we're all stepping back onto our wheel of chaos - which we can stop by tending the deep, rich, river inside of us.

Enjoy the Silence

Words like violence

Break the silence

Come crashing in

Into my little world

Painful to me

Pierce right through me

Can't you understand?

Oh, my little girl

All I ever wanted

All I ever needed

Is here in my arms

Words are very unnecessary

They can only do harm

Vows are spoken

To be broken

Feelings are intense

Words are trivial

Pleasures remain

So does the pain

Words are meaningless

And forgettable

-Depeche Mode

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