For the past two months, I've been blessed with the opportunity to have extended amounts of spare time alone. I did what many of you would do, and spent lots of time "sitting doing nothing"
I considered it an opportunity to do an informal 'solo retreat'. I jotted down some of my thoughts that followed. As always your insightful thoughts and comments are appreciated.
Thoughts on solo retreat:
If someone schedules to attend a formal organized retreat led by trained experts, it can seem more like it's a legitimate & valid 'thing' to be doing. The self, family and friends might accept the idea more readily.
If you intentionally sit on your own doing 'nothing', an attitude that can arise that it's not 'valid'. It's one thing if you plan to go sit quietly for an hour to watch the sunrise/sunset (and meditate), and some people might think it's rather romantic. But "sitting doing nothing" for extended periods of time and days in a row can likely be perceived as a negative thing. You might hear voices internal and external saying things that can sound something like:
"What, he/she just sits there doing nothing, day after day? Are they depressed or something? They want to be alone? They don't want to go somewhere? They must be unhappy? What do they do with all that spare time? They have too much spare time on their hands. Seems kind of lazy, when there's so much work to be done."
Strangely enough, it seems that a fine line exists between the appearance of contentedness and unhappiness. Some of the symptomatic behaviours that arise from both are somewhat similar; solitude, stillness, inactivity, decreased desire and so on.
There's something in our western culture, (perhaps related to a history of the "protestant work ethic"?) that makes solitude and inactivity seem taboo. Many people feel purposeful as long as they are with someone, going somewhere, or seeking to obtain an object. How many people at this very moment are driving to the dollar store to get that plastic widget they're always thinking about? How often do people feel the need to "go somewhere" just because? It makes me wonder how much of our non-renewable fossil fuels have been burnt up simply because of this.
As an alternative way of living I'm not just envisioning the experience of mere survival, but discovering a thriving meaningful spiritual life. It's a rather remarkable experience to sit feeling contented for extended periods of time and experience directly the reality of a blissful conscious existence and yet require so little. I do appreciate the creature comforts and 'snivel gear' I have with me; the shirt and shorts that clothe me, cushions I sit on, the shelter from wind and rain, the water and tea I drink, the simple meals I eat. But I ask myself, what do I need really for during that mindful hour of sitting quietly? Very little!
Increasingly I have begun asking the question, what things do I really need to have with me in order to experience moments of contentedness? Will I really feel any happier or content if I go here or there? Is it really necessary to have a such-and-such, or can I just do without?
Sometimes it can be noisy around home with the neighbours yelling, electrical power tools, un-mufflered racing vehicles, thumping stereos, and more. I'm attracted to the remote woods where it's quiet. I think of it often, and frequently leave home to spend more time there.
But the annoying noises of life around me always come to an end. The discontent that arises from all phenomenon I experience, is temporary and empty of inherent existence (sunyata). Inevitably cessation occurs and I experience the beauty of quietness again for another moment. I notice how so many things exist in a continual cycle of arising and cessation.