Just returned from my 3-day solo retreat. I chose a hermitage about three hours from my house, a relatively secluded 1-room building with a kitchen area so that I could stay there without having to leave to eat. Not like camping, but spartan enough for a retreat.
Day 1 went well. Day 2 was more difficult (I'll explain in a minute). Day 3 was smoother than day 2.
Backing up a bit, my wife and I attend a local UU fellowship because it seems like we need to take the kids somewhere on Sunday and given our backgrounds, the UU group is a tolerable fit for my wife and I. The one we attend is a recent offshoot of the Knoxville TVUUC (about 20 minutes away) that you may have heard about recently. There was a shooting during the Knoxville UU service on Sunday that killed 2 and injured several more. The gunman was upset about "liberals" and chose to make his point at the UU church during a children's play. I found this out by phone on my way to the retreat. One of my colleagues at school was at the church and her daughter was in the play during the shooting.
So, needless to say, there was a lot on my mind during the retreat. Nonetheless, it came and went like all other thoughts. This may be one of the big "take-home" messages for me. Thoughts, no matter how strong, profound, deep, tragic, etc. are still just thoughts and they will pass when they have expended their energy (much like the half-life of radioactive materials--some thoughts have a longer half-life than others, but given time they all lose their energy). Life is the thing that lets those thoughts move on without hindrance. "The expansive sky does not obstruct the floating white clouds" became a clear message to me. For years I assumed that I was the clouds, the thoughts. I see now that self is like the sky, it is not clouds but contains and remains open to the clouds, letting them pass through with judging one cloud as more important than the other or being proud of one cloud because it is beautiful, or being ashamed because several of the clouds are ugly. The sky lets them all be, separate but at the same time a part of the sky.
I did my best. Sometimes leg pain was an issue. Sometimes mental resistance was the issue. Sometimes the desire to be distracted was the issue. Nonetheless, these issues passed too. Not having others around made the temptation to "cheat" on the schedule a bit stronger than it might have been at a retreat with others, but learning to accept even this about myself was a good lesson. What mattered, ultimately, was sincere effort, and sincere action.
I never realized how many distractions are built into my life and how often I look to those to distract me from my thoughts. I thought about things (death in particular) to a depth that I hadn't allowed myself before. Why? There was nowhere to hide from thinking about some things. No yard to mow, no bottoms to wipe, no job, no garage to sweep. So, all (or at least a lot) the stuff that I have carried around for years came up. Some of it was not pleasant, but it was no nightmare either, especially having learned better to let thoughts simply pass now.
I recommend it for everyone. It had the seemingly paradoxical effect of both inspiring me and knocking me down a notch or two at the same time.
If you want to know the particular schedule I used (it was nothing special), I can post it here.
PS--The ride back down the mountain after sitting still and silent for 3 days was a thrill. 70 mph felt like 170. Yeeeeeeeehaaaw!