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LANE: Spending 5 days in silence

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Last week, I went on a five-day silent retreat. Five days of acting monk/Thoreau-like in a lakefront retreat house in Oconomowoc, Wis.

I decided to go partly after reading “Eat Pray Love,” Elizabeth Gilbert’s much-passed-around memoir where, at one point, she spends 10 days alone in silence on a remote island in Bali to heal after her divorce.

I thought it made a unique challenge to spend that much time in tranquility and thought in rural Wisconsin, not on the beaches of Bali.

I also thought I’d go there to solve all my major life decisions: What would I do with my life? Should I volunteer, go to grad school or get a job when I graduate? Where will I be this summer? One week of silence would answer those questions.

And I hadn’t prayed in a while, so I was hoping this week would help me de-stress and do me some spiritual good.

But as the designated week drew closer, I began to panic. What was I thinking? Five days of not speaking to anyone, purely surrounded by my thoughts? I began to imagine Debbie Downer hunkering down at a round table with all my anxieties and troubles, sipping coffee and hissing, “Oh yeah, we’re gonna be here allll night.”

The retreat, run by Campus Ministry, recommended retreatants refrain from bringing non-spiritual books and music, and limit cell phone use.

In apprehension, I snatched five New Yorkers and a pile of books that have been on my to-read list for two years. I was preparing for hermitage.

With about 26 other Marquette students and faculty, I then traveled to the leafy, snow-laden grounds of the Redemptorist Retreat Center, 35 minutes away.

There, I met Sister Dawn.

Sister Dawn, my spiritual advisor there, is a little nun who looks like a cross between Glinda the Good Witch and Estee Lauder, with the hair of the grandma in “Sixteen Candles” (the one who notices Sam’s “boobies”).

She has twinkling blue eyes, doesn’t wear a habit and told us that night that our prayer life with God should be like two lovers on a couch. Sister Dawn also said she has a word for God each week.

“This week, it’s juicy. I’ll leave it at that,” she said.

Every day, we had three silent meals, mass, evening prayers and a meeting with a spiritual adviser. In between, I watched squirrels for an hour, sat by the fire reading, prayed, drew and went for runs.

The first day of retreat, I freaked out. I kept repeating the phrases in my head that Sister Dawn had given me. I kept thinking God would appear like a lightning bolt, and I’d hear a booming voice from the sky say, “Hello, Rosemary. This is God.” They always say listen to God, but how do you do that? I heard no booming voice, had no light bulb moment.

I went stir crazy. I was itching for my cell phone, for some Kid Cudi, for any DVD. I was tempted to hitchhike and grab some Jimmy John’s (real rebellious).

The next day, I met with Sister Dawn in exasperation, wondering how I would solve all these decisions and learn to pray.

“Rosemary, you’re a very intense person,” she said. “You need to de-constipate your mind.”

Did I ever. She told me I was like a water skier crouched in the water, getting tugged by the boat. All I needed to do was lift up my heart and stand up. Let go, stop thinking, and just be.

“I’m not worried about you, Rosemary,” she said as I was leaving. “Soon, you’ll be flying.”

That day, I went on a long run with Frou Frou’s “Let Go” playing in my head. Maybe it was the endorphins, but as I ran “Baywatch”-style through the snow, with the birds tweeting and the sun shining, it all clicked. I simply let go. I felt excited, hopeful, and most importantly, present. I realized God was there all along, no matter how hard I willed Him.

Now it sounds like an Oprah ah-ha moment, and trying to be present didn’t magically happen — I’m still working on it. But I began to worry less about what I would do five months from now and focus on the here and now. I also wished, in a Tiny Tim way, that everyone could go on a silent retreat.

Maybe you’re not spiritual, but taking the time for silence is necessary every day. Our minds are clouded with worry about studies, graduating, friends, significant others and jobs. We’re overstimulated by texting, chatting and thinking about the future.

As classes and duties pile up, turn off the TV and Facebook to refocus and relax. Take a walk along Lake Michigan, study the freakish squirrels on campus, explore the Haggerty Museum of Art, just be quiet for a few minutes each day and stop thinking.

And soon, you’ll be flying (and juicy).

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