Beryl Singleton Bissell


From the author

Leaping the Wall: 10 Days of Silence

July 25, 2007

Actually, I almost leapt the wall but I didn't. If I'd pictured a cozy retreat where I didn't have to talk and could just moon around being thoughtful I was sadly but wondrously mistaken. This retreat was not mystic rapture. This retreat was Dark Night of the Soul.

Rigorous days. Rigorous nights. For 10 days we sat in meditation, walked in meditation and when we weren't sitting, walking or listening, we were moving purposefully -- reaching for doorknobs, putting on one's sandals, eating one's meal -- everything done as consciously and purposefully as possible. We did not read books. We did not write in journals. We kept total silence save during the lectures (1 lecture, 1 practice instruction daily) when we were encouraged to ask questions, or when we were chanting.

This was a "If you are awake, you should be meditating," retreat -- a blessed combination of St. John of the Cross mysticism and Buddhist awareness and insight training.

Our meditation practice did not involve sinking into inner quietude as I'd been doing during meditation for the past few years (ah, such lovely peace and tranquility), but was the exact opposite. This meditation practice meant being fully alert, intensely focused and awake. This was the experience of "now," as I'd seldom experienced it before. "Now" is where God is.

We did not think (oh heck, we tried not to think). When thoughts came as they've been programmed to do, we swatted them away with one word "thinking," and poof -- they disappeared. Well, swat is probably the wrong word. We did not swat anything during this retreat. We made a promise not to harm any living thing and swatting summons the image of mosquitoes which we consequently could not swat.

We did not think because thinking distracts full attention from the "now." We did not even think about God because thinking about God is not God.

"Is thinking about your mother, your mother?" "Is thinking about a house, a house?"

Repressed memories, guilts, obsessions, griefs, fears are also obstacles to full awareness. The anguish of allowing these repressed memories, guilts, obsessions, griefs, fears to rise to the surface is part of the process. You do not think about these memories, guilts, obsessions, griefs, fears because thinking about them only reinforces their power rather than opening you to divine healing. Instead, you allow yourself to experience them emotionally. And you stay there until you return to your breathing -- which I discovered is around as "now" as I could get.

By the third day I wanted to flee the monastery. I'd wept every body fluid I possessed. I hated what was happening to me and the "I" I was meeting in meditation. I was able to stick it out because I wasn't always weeping. There were times when I simply experienced the breeze (feeling), or sounds (hearing), and boredom (nothing happening). Little patches of relief that carried me through the other more painful experiences. And then there was that marvelous experience at 3:30 a.m. one morning when I encountered "self "again ... saw myself ... and was flooded with love. It was mother love and I was both mother and child.

And here I am. Still alive. Body fluids returned to normal. Better yet, I'm back as a more focused, tranquil, and hopeful Beryl. I encountered myself while on retreat, and in embracing her I think I might just have embraced the God within her. Either that or she was embraced by that God.

I'm going back again next year. No doubt about it.

This retreat was offered by Resources for Ecumenical Spirituality -- an organization founded by 2 Carmelite priests and Mary Jo Meadows, an author, clinical psychologist, former professor of religious studies at Mankato State University and a practitioner of meditation for more than 30 years in the Christian, ashtanga yogic, and Theravada Buddhist traditions. For more information on their retreats and workshops, contact them at

The Minneapolis Star Tribune named Beryl as a "Best of 2006 Minnesota Authors." Her book The Scent of God was a “Notable” Book Sense selection for April 2006 and has been nominated for a Midwest Booksellers Book Award.

My Work

The collision of human love and faith
An impetuous move to Lake Superior transforms a life
While writing The Scent of God
"Seven Years in Hell"

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