A Deeper Dive: Reflections on a Four-Year Silent Meditation Retreat

“Wherever we may be in our practice, we’ve all at times asked ourselves: What would it be like if I sat a little longer? Perhaps after our first afternoon, or daylong silent retreat, we thought—’I was really able finally to settle in there and experience stillness. It was powerful, and some interesting thoughts arose. What would sitting two days be like? Or three? What if I did a full week of silent meditation? What deeper levels of insight and compassion might unfold then?’

Few have understood and heeded this call of the cushion quite like Bill and Susan Morgan. For years, this Boston couple, both of whom are meditation teachers and longtime meditators, had been coming to the Insight Meditation Society’s Forest Refuge to sit silent retreats for three months every year. Some years, they have sat for three months straight. For others, they’ve sat for two six-week periods. For several years in a row, they sat in silence for one week each month.

Then, one day in 2009, Susan said to Bill, “I think we should do a deeper dive. Let’s really step out, and go more deeply into the practice.” Her proposal? A two-year silent meditation retreat [that turned into four years].

Interview with Bill and Susan Morgan. “A Deeper Dive: Reflections on a Four-Year Silent Meditation Retreat.” Insight Meditation Society. February 15, 2019.

Living for four years in silent retreat is an experience most of us cannot even imagine. I found the discussion worth a listen. Recommended, particularly if you have any kind of meditation practice.

4 thoughts on “A Deeper Dive: Reflections on a Four-Year Silent Meditation Retreat

  1. There are many….. Hollyhock is close so I make it an annual (last year twice) retreat and usually choose something different each time. Have never chosen a meditation retreat, I am just not that disciplined at this point and there are so many other areas I want to explore.
    I have found Hollyhock to be a very sacred place for me where I have experienced profound change.

    Other places, of many I want to visit are Esalen at Big Sur, The Garrison Institute NY, Findhorn Northern Scotland. One day I want to just travel and visit sacred sites and places like I have mentioned above
    and just see where it takes me.

    It has probably been in the last year that I have tried to have a serious daily(sometimes) practice of meditation and yes it has changed me in ways that are impossible to describe. If I miss the morning space that I am alone in the house then I do it at night.

    So much to explore…..so little time.

  2. I sit for about 40 minutes a day. I’ve only be doing it for, maybe six months. It is hard to explain, but I believe it has changed my life. I can only imagine what four years would do, or even longer in a monastery or nunnery. Completely transformative.

    My reading is idiosyncratic. I haven’t read Neruda. I’ve always meant to so took this opportunity to get a copy of his collected works. I expect it will be amazing.

    Never heard of Hollyhock. Looking over their website, it sounds great. It seems an intuitive extension to build an intentional community around that kind of institution. I wonder how many places are around like that….

  3. I just watched this all the way through….as you have pointed out four years….sort of unthinkable even if you could carve the time out the your life. I really liked how she talked about the ‘rough landing’ that it took her a whole year just to really ‘land’. It made me reexamine the quality of the small bit of time I carve out of my ‘day’. Hardly time to even release the landing gear.:)

    I have attended Hollyhock for one workshop every year for the last 6 years, more and more I hear people when I am there talk and crave ‘community’ how they would like to live at Hollyhock or someplace like it. It sounds like these two did just that as they moved through their practice and watched others come and go from this place.

    We are all spiritual refugees to a certain extent looking for that oasis where we can sit and feel home even for a short time. I am sure you are familiar with the Pablo Neruda poem were he speaks of us all “sitting on the rim of the well of darkness fishing for bits of light”

    Again thank you for finding and posting a piece that helps me with my ‘fishing’ I will pass it on to a few people I know will be able to ‘hear’ it.

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