THE BLOG
02/25/2013 12:12 pm ET | Updated Apr 27, 2013

Silent Retreat: The New Frontier in Psychotherapy

Alamy

Years ago I was trained in traditional therapy, gestalt and primal therapy, couples and family therapy. And I found they all have benefit. After spending time in rural parts of the Philippines, Bali, and India, seeing life in other cultures, I began to realize many of these people have a very different life experience. To begin with, they do not have therapists. They are not in some group sorting out life. They are naturally happy, peaceful, and productive. In the simple peace of daily life, their heart and eyes smile. Their being communicates trust, beauty, and something best called grace.

Since that time, I began offering retreats in silence and nature trying to reproduce the environment that gives such a big heart and smile. In silent retreats, people unplug from the busy-ness of life to be with the gentleness of solitude. After a few days of peace and quiet, time free from our mental traffic, retreat participants begin discovering new parts of themselves. They find inner resources that they never found in therapy. Outer peace and quiet helps to find this place inside of simple quietude. Silence and nature give inner silence and harmony.

You are probably saying, "It's easy to feel good in the peace and quiet of nature but we all nevertheless have to return home to the same people and situations that put us in therapy in the first place." But before jumping to conclusions, there is something more about making a silent retreat.

Therapy, with all its benefits and guidance, has people submerged in their personal story. Clients have an hour of sorting out their complex identity. Therapy is all about conscious and unconscious feelings and behavior. In silent retreat, we have an opportunity to experience ourselves separate from our personal story. In the space away from everyone and everything, away from our story, are a peace and freedom. In retreat, we are temporarily free of life's story ruling our awareness. In the power of now, being wholly present is a healing force. We are more than our thoughts and our feelings. There is inner peace. Inner peace is not usually part of psychotherapy. In retreat, we find ourselves resting in a large meadow of little flowers. This meadow of little flowers is within our heart. This is not mental imagery, fantasy, or just a nice feeling. Underneath our running mind, below the noisy stuff that keeps our awareness occupied, is a meadow of complete peace. Everyone has their own experience, but to discover the vividness and pure calm within us can be a life-changing experience.

You are probably thinking, "Maybe others find inner peace in silence and nature, but my mind follows me wherever I go. Away from home, wherever I am, my thoughts are as busy and anxious as ever." Hold on, there is a third ingredient: meditation. A meditation of heartfulness slows down our thinking so our inner peace can come forward in our awareness. The magic, so to speak, of a silent retreat is what happens when silence, nature, and meditation come together. Our awareness is washed. The details, feelings, and memories that normally rule our awareness let go. The retreat embraces the presence of our heart. Without the filter of our mental life, our awareness naturally softens to the meadow of little flowers, a wonderful inner calm. When our concerns, fears, and desires are not pressing on our minds, we find something else. There is simple peace.

We realize that our problems are not really about the people we are always complaining about. My problem is that I am out of touch with the peace in my heart. The noisy, busy world that we live in every day keeps us separate from another part of us. There is a vastness inside to explore. We want to uncover this unlimited sense of being. In the silence inside is this innocent place that we haven't known since we were children. There is a great interior life, full of trust and beauty. When we take the time for inner stillness, there is something sacred. And life's sacredness is no further away than our heart. We are smiling more and feeling clear. In silent retreat we are beginning to understand the gift of simplicity. The retreat comes home with us as we make a daily practice being and listening in our heart. Here is my true self.

In psychotherapy, the question is -- how much of our problems are from our personality, and how much is from the mental traffic we live with in general? Isn't most of life's stress due to mental overcrowding? Could it be that the inner and outer noise we live with keeps us from being happy? In silence, nature, and meditation of heartfulness, feelings of depression lighten and anxiety softens. In the vast space found within our heart, there is an entirely new perspective. The feelings that normally tie us up, untangle. The roots of fear, which are the source of most of the problems for which people seek therapy, are touched and healed. Inner peace yields understanding, compassion, generosity, joy -- the qualities therapists dream of for our clients. As therapists try to bring light to their clients, an unlimited, brilliant light waits in their heart. Discovering the path from our mental world to the world of our heart is a journey of the soul, answering life's big and small questions. There is so much to receive in the depths of inner quiet within us. Silent retreats are not a replacement for psychotherapy but, yes, a new frontier.

For more by Bruce Davis, Ph.D., click here.

For more on emotional wellness, click here.

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