Workshop Review: Seven-Day Silent Retreat in Perugia

with Catherine Ingram Perugia, Italy, 24-31 October 2014

Reviewed by Ger Murphy

I recently attended the above workshop with 21 participants, among them several other IAHIP psychotherapists, and while this is an unusual workshop to report on for Inside Out, I would argue that the radical difference involved may make it interesting for us psychotherapists, who use speech so centrally as part of our work, to consider the value of silent retreats as part of our self-care practices.

Catherine Ingram is a world-renowned spiritual teacher and author who has been leading this type of workshop for over 20 years.

The workshops take place in locations of beauty where comfort, great food and aesthetically pleasing surroundings are a core part of the workshop experience. The structure of the week, which is very spacious, involves two one-and-a-half hour group discussion sessions daily, where participants report on their meditative and process experience and are guided to engaging in deeper presence by Catherine. This sense of presence is described well in Catherine’s book, Passionate Presence. There are also two yoga sessions per day with poetry, group walks and lots of relaxation time. All activities are optional and all present are silent at all times, including meal times, except for group discussion sessions.

In the first day or two it is remarkable how tired people are, often sleeping or resting for many hours between sessions, showing, as Catherine says, the speed and demand of most of our lives – a speed we are often unaware of until we avail of this kind of opportunity to rest deeply. As the days go on, one could see how more rested, and indeed younger, participants were looking. This shows me how what we usually call relaxation is often merely replacing one kind of speedy demand with another, in our manic lives.

It was also clear how less cluttered participants’ minds became, how held feelings were released and how playful and childlike people became – a kind of return to natural childlike innocence emerged as we slowed down and came into a deeper sense of presence and ease. In this context it was then possible for participants to explore life issues in a serene way, allowing their own intuitive wisdom to emerge, with no attempt to fix anything. Issues from family and work contexts emerged and were met, as were major existential issues of meaning, death and purpose, and these could be explored in a radical and spacious way.

This was not a self-improvement programme – it did not attempt to have participants believe any creed or belief structure, nor was it a mindfulness or meditation teaching. The invitation was to return to a deeper sense of presence, where pleasure, quietness and gratitude could spontaneously emerge, and the silence did the work, as Catherine would often say. The return to deeper sensual awareness where nature, others and self could be met in a new way was touching.

For psychotherapists who spend many hours with clients in psychological suffering, this was a great treat. To be able to bask in silence, beauty and the love that opens in hearts relieved of pressure, stress and demand was profound.

I would strongly recommend this type of workshop as a most valuable CPD experience for practitioners – from beginning ones grappling with developing appropriate compassion and empathic attunement to seasoned psychotherapists battling with vicarious traumatisation or burnout, this may be of great benefit.

I wrote the following lines during the retreat/workshop and this may give some sense of the experience on another level:

Pouring Forth
The Holy of Holies, the Tabernacle
of the heart throbs with
the jewel of essence.
The key has been placed
In the door and it is
opened,
The embroidered silken
curtain is pulled back
The majestic light pours
forth and the world
is created.
Every kind of bug,
every leaf of tree,
every fontanel of baby
pours forth
is born, withers
and is born again.
Time itself pours out like
honey,
I can only breathe
in awe at the
ever present birthday
of creation
arising from
this heart
and sigh in wonder
as it’s all drenched in God

Ger Murphy works as an Integrative psychotherapist, supervisor and trainer and is accredited by IAHIP. Ger has been Director of the Institute of Creative Counselling and Psychotherapy for over 25 years – see www.iccp.ie/library for other articles and information. He can be contacted at germurphy@edgeworth.ie

Reference:
Ingram, C. (2003). Passionate presence: Seven qualities of awakened awareness. New York: Gotham Books. See also www.catherineingram.com.