"Live a good life, and in the end, it's not the years in the life, it's the life in the years."

My silent retreat; no news is good news

By on November 24, 2019 in Columnist, Uncategorized with 1 Comment
Jim Brown

By Jim Brown, M.D.

Recently, I read an article by Deepak Chopra, MD, which struck a chord with me.

He said, “We have sacrificed ourselves for our selfies.” 

Our collective selfy, in which he was referring to our collective ego, has created an insane world. Chopra went on to say, “It is as if the present moment isn’t meant to be lived but to be posted.”

His goal is to identify experiences of joy, freedom, bliss and creativity and make them continuous. 

He went on to say  he was planning on a weeklong silent retreat this fall. There would be no social media, no phone, no television, and no interaction with anyone. 

He said solitude is not loneliness, but it is about getting in touch with our own being and escaping the lunatic asylum  the world can be. 

As I read this I decided  I could do this too. 

I wondered what it would be like, alone in solitude without conversation, the news, my iPhone, television, wifi or a computer. 

I have been so sick and tired of the constant barrage of negative news, the divisiveness of politics, the lies and outright dislike and even hatred of “the other” that seems to have become in our country of late. 

The persuasiveness is so rampant in our lives today that doing the opposite appealed to me. 

I decided to try a three-day retreat of silence at a cabin near Lake Wenatchee. 

The only living thing that would be with me would be my dog, Jackson. His unconditional love fills me with good positive thoughts whenever I look into his brown eyes. I can’t help but smile and love him back. He also is a strong motivator for me to take 2-mile walks twice a day.

The drive up to the lake through Tumwater Canyon was gorgeous. The sun was out, reflecting on the beautiful oranges, yellow and red leaves of fall. 

The silence for these three days was incredibly peaceful. 

I brought several books to read that would stimulate my thinking. I took no novels. I knew I was fortunate to be able to do this as a retired person with a wonderful wife who said, “Go for it.” 

The more I thought about it when I got to my destination, the more I looked forward to the silence and the absence of all news. 

I did give Lynn the phone number of a friend at Lake Wenatchee in case of emergency since my phone was turned off for the duration.

 Later on the first day as I had dinner by myself what I missed then were our family dinner table conversations with my wife and daughter. My dog, Jackson, was an ever-faithful, but silent companion.

It was really tempting to turn on the television for the news or to check my iPhone to see what was happening “out there,” but I resisted.

After the first night I awoke at 6 a.m. aware of the licking of my hand by Jackson as I lay in bed. “Get up, let’s get going,” he was saying. 

We went for a brisk early morning walk together as he was busy smelling whatever it is  dogs smell everywhere. The cloudless sky was so blue, the lake calm, the snow level about at 4,000 feet on Dirty Face Mountain. 

After our walk, as I sat by the fire enjoying my coffee,

 I realized  I have been sitting there often over the last 39 years but never alone like this, cut off as I now was from “the world.” 

I am always in awe of the beauty of the Lake Wenatchee area. As I looked across the lake with the sunlight sparkling on the water, I couldn’t help but feel God saying, “I am.” 

For Lynn and me this place has been a place of peace, family, comfort and gratitude for God’s creation.

I started reading a book by Thomas Merton, Seeds of Contemplation. He describes contemplation as “awe at the sacredness of life, the gratitude for life, awareness and for being.” 

Contemplation, he said, cannot be taught or clearly explained. Contemplation for me is not only an appreciation of God’s creation and beauty that surrounds us but also for awareness of my true self as opposed to my false self of pride and ego.

After three days of silence without contact with anyone or the “world” out there, I was doing well. I certainly didn’t miss the anger, angst and bitter conflicts of our nations political drama. 

I felt more relaxed, less stressed about the news and it almost seemed like I had emptied my mind of a lot of unnecessary and negative thoughts.

I felt the need to focus on being mindful of the present moment, since that is all we truly have anyway. 

Instead of being preoccupied with the past, what has already happened or the future that hasn’t arrived yet, I found myself focusing my thoughts on the richness of the present moment. 

Buddhists call being in touch with the “now” mindfulness. This can be a cleansing and emptying-out time of negative thoughts. 

Several years ago, Lynn and I did a month of volunteering in Chiang mai, Thailand. We spent a few wonderful hours discussing our various beliefs with a Buddhist monk in a Buddhist temple. 

The more we discussed our beliefs together the more similar we felt we were. 

Rather than obvious differences in our lives, the three of us felt like we were united on the same path, the path of our lives. 

Now as “senior” citizens, we try to focus on the positive rather than the negative that is so pervasive in our news and daily lives. 

Brain studies have shown  our brain seems to be hard wired to focus on the negative problems at the expense of having a positive vision. We seem to dwell on bad experiences long after the fact, often spending our energy anticipating what might go wrong in the future. 

Studies by a neuroscientist Rick Hanson showed  we must hold onto a positive thought or feeling for over 15 seconds for it to leave an imprint on our neurons. 

This is a good reason to have a daily gratitude journal to focus and remember the positive events in our lives. 

This “now” moment is truly the only time we really have, so we might as well savor it.

Jim Brown, M.D., is a retired gastroenterologist who has practiced for 38 years in the Wenatchee area. He is a former CEO of the Wenatchee Valley Medical Center.

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  1. Chuck Largent says:

    Thanks Jim.

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