Insights from a 5-day silent retreat 34

Last week, I spent five days with some friends doing a silent meditation retreat. Held at a serene monastery, it provided my heart with ample space to open, my body room to hike into the hills, and my soul a place to rest.

I feel the news. Like some who are wired for compassion, it comes naturally to feel things as much as to understand them. What I didn’t realize—until I shut down the devices for almost a week—is how taxing it is to hold it all.

Up at the top of the hill, looking down on a distant and sunlit green valley, I remembered that the suffering our country causes to its own people is not mine to carry. The strain of resisting an administration bent on its selfish, self-serving agenda isn’t mine to bear.

I sat on the roots of an old fir tree in tearful relief, remembering that the only thing I can do is my own part. To use my own voice. And then, surrender the rest to the Earth, to the Divine, whatever name we call the Love that is so much bigger than we are.

None of what we seek can be found in the panicked, frantic whack-a-mole game this administration seems to demand. I say ‘seems’ because it is an act of profound self-care (and a rather effective activism strategy) to choose your issues and do everything you can—but only what you can—to support their resolution. Then surrender in trust that others are doing the work we cannot.

It is vital to seek being emotionally-grounded and clear-hearted enough not to get sucked into the drama.

Make of this sharing what you will. I had days of silence before I understood all of this, and I’m sure to forget before long. But I wanted to share what I found while I was away:

  • How important it is to trust that something bigger can hold it all
  • A profound certainty that we are beloved beyond measure
  • An understanding that your well-being matters deeply—both for yourself and for every life you touch

Thank you for being a part of this work. It takes heart to keep at it, but it is so, so worth it.


P.S. If you happen to have a monastic retreat center near you, go. No matter what your faith background, such hospitality, welcome, and peace await there.

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34 thoughts on “Insights from a 5-day silent retreat

  • Jill DiMassimo

    Thank you, Jennifer, for sharing your profound experience with us. I needed to hear that today. My own yoga practice has slipped the last two months and now I am craving the surrender. Namaste.

  • Laurie Forrest

    Thank you Jennifer for your insight and wisdom. I’ve been away myself and you articulated my thoughts and feelings!

  • Seeley

    Such a beautiful reflection and post! I completely understand and concur. Thank you for sharing. I KNOW this post will be an inspiration and validation to many. You are making a difference.

  • Kitty

    Jen – Thank you for sharing what you learned in your 5-day retreat. Valuable insights. Like many others, I’ve been very active this past year and am feeling increasingly overwhelmed. I find myself wishing the problem was only one or two issues, but instead there are so many! Your reference to playing whack-a-mole hit a responsive chord and made me smile. One unintended outcome that my efforts have had: — my email in-box is perpetually filled with heartfelt petitions and requests for money from so many individuals and organizations. It’s overwhelming….and I am finite. You are right in your observations. Thank you!

  • Serena Leiser

    Wow, just wow! I am so grateful to you Jennifer for sharing this sharing this experience. I have many friends who need to hear this message – the need to shut down and not “hold it all”. Your comment “I’m sure to forget before long” is very realistic, but the good part is that the feeling this experience created in you is still there inside of you and will pop out every once in a while. When it does, hold on to it as long as you can. Blessings on your journey

  • Sandy

    You are an inspiration Jen. I’m so glad u r taking care of yourself. I am a longtime meditator. I would have no internal peace without finding these truths within. Who is to say we don’t change the world in this way as well?

  • Joan. Hyman

    Thank you for your letter and your encouragement for this type of self-care. I greatly admire the work you are doing. I listen to the podcast OnBeing with Krista Tippett, which is often a helpful prompt in maintaining an expansive vision.

    I wish you the best in maintaining ways to keep in touch sources of healing and love. And thank you so much for your very valuable work.

  • Sue Kusch

    Wow – such an important realization and so important to hear and understand as my empath heart and soul is completely worn down, along with the teeth I have been grinding.

    I live in the woods and have the opportunity each day to remove myself to the gravel road to ponder but lately it has been filled with anger and despair. I must believe something is bigger to hold it.

    My vegetable/herb/flower garden is my sanctuary and I am going to print up these reminders and place them in the garden as a daily reminder. Thank you for sharing.

  • Sandy Rubin

    As uncomfortable as you may be with being my hero, you just are. Please keep leading. I need you and I am not alone in that. You’ve taken up a unique banner no one else has. The play, Anne Frank, is playing in Rochester, NY, and serves as monumental statement of what a non-democratic state is and how precious our constitution is. Your work is essential. Thank you.

  • Jerry Braza

    Thank you Jennifer! You describe the path of the mystic, the silence brings us in touch with ourselves and the connection with God, the Divine, spirit, our Buddha nature and much more. We feel renewed as we let go of our attachment to the false self (ego, media, roles, titles) we connect with our true self (grace, spirit). Jerry Braza

  • Marcia Barnes

    Many thanks for your “staying balanced” approach to activism and life. I especially enjoy your silent retreat thoughts.

  • Kathleen Jowitt

    “it is an act of profound self-care (and a rather effective activism strategy) to choose your issues and do everything you can—but only what you can—to support their resolution. Then surrender in trust that others are doing the work we cannot.”

    This is so important to remember! Thank you!

    (on the other side of the Atlantic, but still finding this very useful.)

    • Jennifer Hofmann Post author

      I’m so glad you find it helpful! Certainly times are a bit challenging on your island too. Be well (and good luck with the new book)!

  • Barbara Jung

    Thank you Jennifer for your inspiration. I fully agree that we must do what we can and leave the rest to The Divine. You have kept
    me inspired this past year and I do take time to go deep every day so that I won’t burn out or become cynical or discouraged. I have found I have less anger and more determination, even more patience. When heartbreaking things occur like the shooting in Parkland, my resolve is greater even through my tears. When I learn of the good news of candidates turning elections around I believe that change will come and we can begin to rebuild progress and restore our democracy. I did take a vacation and it was too busy and I found myself saying “Next vacation is in a monastery.” Glad you did it first.

  • Nechama Tamler

    Echoing what so many others have already said, I add my voice to thank you for this insight and to know that we all need to keep reinforcing the message the Universe sent you on your silent retreat….holding each other and caring for ourselves and others doing justice work. There’s this great aphorism from a tiny book of the Talmud that quotes “Rabbi Tarfon who says, It is not up to you to complete the task, but neither are you free to stand aside from it..” I try to remember that righting the scales of justice isn’t something I can do alone nor can we all do this overnight. It’s a long process and we just have to keep at it and remember that each of us doing positive things counts. A good friend, who is also a rabbi, observed that there are more good people in the world than bad and we will make a difference together. Thank you for teaching us and leading by example.

  • Jen P

    Thank you from the bottom, top, right and left hypotenuse of my heart! I, too, needed to read this message this morning. Refreshing… ahhhh! Much love!

  • anni crofut

    Jennifer, thank you for this lucid and elevated piece of writing and wisdom. So grateful for your self-knowing and willingness to break the cycle of ‘doing’ in order to go deeply into being present for a few days, to re-set. So important. And as you have taken a leadership role, the example you set has a larger ripple effect.

  • Yushin

    Perfect. Perfect. Perfect. Anyone in the Portland, OR area: Great Vow Zen Monastery, Clatsakanie and a city center, Heart of Wisdom Zen Temple, both offering refuge, silent retreats and meditation.

  • Marilyn waingarten

    Thank you so much for sharing your powerful insight into the importance of self-care and meditation, especially when giving as much of ourselves to the outside world as you do! Someone wise advised that we spend an hour each day, a day each month, and a week each year in silence and meditation, to restore our serenity and to stay spiritually fit, connected and right-sized to a Power greater than ourselves. Your experience testifies to that advice.

  • Roberta Wheatley

    In this season of Lent, a time for quiet reflection, I appreciate your sharing insights found in the stillness we so seldom take time to experience. Thank you, Jennifer!

  • Christine R from Cape Cod MA

    All of your time and diligence toward actions that lead to a more compassionate, just and caring world is SO appreciated! Your weekly letter provides information that is clear, informative and backed up with easy links for further details AND simple ways for us/me to support those efforts.
    Thank you, again and again and again! Your positivity is so refreshing during such tumultuous times.
    Please continue to balance your activism with self care. We need more people like you in this world!