I just spent several beautiful and quiet days next to Tomales Bay and Point Reyes, California. (Yes, by myself I’m raising the earth temp from all my recent air travel.) The occasion was a retreat for academics sponsored by the Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education, a branch of the Contemplative Mind in Society organization.
I learned about the group this summer at the Amsterdam conference from another attendee who said I would find like-minded people there. So right!
We gathered on Thursday evening at the Marconi Conference Center, spent time on Friday morning doing mindfulness practices, then went into group silence for more than 24 hours, including meals together, then came out of silence and began speaking again on Saturday afternoon–and barely stopped talking together after that.
Here is Tomales Bay near sundown, when we arrived on Thursday:
More photos from Thursday late afternoon:
I felt happy just seeing huge ferns again. (You don’t find them in Boulder!)
As we moved through contemplative exercises I, like most others, wriggled before I found a comfortable sitting posture, then watched my mind do antics over and over. I would come back to my breath, enjoy it for a few seconds—oops, wandering again, come back to the breath—oops, wandering again. . . . And so it went, for ten or fifteen minutes at a time. Occasionally one of the leaders would remind us:
Just this breath. No more than that. Just this breath.
And so we would come back to the breath, over and over again.
We were led through other kinds of exercises as well, experimenting with moving between single-pointed attention (as in watching the breath) and wide-open attention. (If you want more info, email me from the About me page.)
I learned over the weekend that I adore group silence. It’s made for introverts! What a relief to be able to enjoy the presence of others and not feel compelled to talk. And I learned that even I could eventually get bored with it.
Still, to have several days set aside just for quietness and for wandering the stunningly beautiful grounds was a rare and precious treat.
During free (silent) time on Friday and Saturday I simply attended to whatever along the paths caught my eye. First, the bark of the pine trees, this one with a few dots of ice blue lichen, a color I’d never noticed before in lichen:
Lichens are fungi—remember, fungi cannot make their own food—that team up with photosynthesizing organisms like algae or blue-green algae in symbiosis. Lichenologist Trevor Goward says:
Lichens are fungi that have discovered agriculture.
Lichens are a good reminder of the interdependence of us all. More lichen, this patch near the base of a pine tree:
Then there was the fungus under a tree, its surface like velveteen:
More bark, this time a side view—the layers like stacked pages at the edge of a book:
Bark with a shred of moss floating on it:
And glimpses of moss overhead being swayed by the breeze:
Finally, a decayed fencepost, which to me under the influence (of silence) appeared breathtaking. The rush of gratitude at seeing something so simple, so ordinary, so beautiful—I guess you had to be there. I was immensely grateful I was.
For more information:
See the bios and websites of the retreat leaders, Mirabai Bush and Arthur Zajonc.
A retreat filled with silence? Oh that sounds heavenly! The moss looks like an epiphyte – do you know anything about it? Looks like a wonderful place for a retreat.
The retreat sounds wonderful, Priscilla, and the images are divine. Nicely done!
Heather, all I know about the moss is that it appears on many trees in that area, nourished by the abundance of coastal fog. If you know more, please feel free to share it!
Linda, thanks for stopping by, and I’m glad you enjoyed the photos. They’re one way I could pass along the gift of the weekend, like wafting it on a photo breeze.
Mimi, I love that phrase “a brush with serenity.” Says it all! I felt in the moment of taking the photo of the post that this shot was alive in a different way–embodying the silence, a result of serenity rather than a seeking to find it.
I share similar experiences when I try to meditate. Wander. Focus. Wander. Focus.
I love the “just this breath” thought and I’m in complete agreement with Heather on the wonder of group silence! Thank you for this post…for “the” post (things like that resonate with me as well. Little miracles of placement in our lives…) and all the wonderful images of a brush with serenity.
Priscilla, you couldn’t have explained it better! Thank you for summarizing that wonderful weekend in such an extraordinary way!
Greetings from Mexico!
Argelia, it was great to meet you at the retreat, and I’m glad to hear you had a wonderful time too.
Beautiful photos, Priscilla, from an ecosystem I’ve never seen. Thank so you much for sharing!