On Being Blind at the Silent Retreat

9 Jun

by Jeff Flodin

There’s a joke that goes, “I thought about going to a silent retreat but I talked myself out of it.” That’s my reality, but I have male friends who have fought weekend traffic both ways to the Minnesota backwoods for the chance to camp in all kinds of weather with a hundred other men and pound on drums for forty-eight hours. And the best part is that nobody says a word, except for the clandestine readings of Robert Bly poems behind the privy. My friends report revelatory experiences from such weekends and, for me, any weekend in Minnesota without fishing sounds like heaven.

Surely these events generate so much testosterone that any man not affected does not have a pulse. Primal energy. Jungle drums. Men, men, men. I applaud any man’s attempts to become less of a man – that is, to compete less, communicate feelings other than envy, and pursue serenity as a contagious condition.

I’m still looking for my first silent retreat. Maybe I’m too picky or find fault too easily. I like to think I’m a sensitive guy. I only partly agree that sensitive means easily annoyed

Now, in the sensitive-guy circles I bisect, word is out about a silent retreat without the mosquitoes. It’s in a convention hotel in Schaumberg. The Minnesota alumni who attended the last one said it was OK, but lacked backwoods ambience. They found earth tone furnishings containing earnest folks meditating and making meaningful eye contact. While I too find serenity in silence, I fear that, without the visuals, I’m short-changed. Take away the audio track and I’m reduced to the senses better suited for my Seeing Eye dog, Randy. Maybe I’ll send Randy to the Schaumberg silent retreat. I’ve never heard him bark. He follows gestures very well. He has soulful eyes. He’s a sensitive dog. He’ll like it. And when he comes home, perhaps his new-found serenity will rub off on me and I’ll file my next report from the Minnesota backwoods, banging the drum slowly.

Jeff Flodin is a writer.  He has been diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa for 30 years.  Jeff’s bi-weekly blog, “Jalapenos in the Oatmeal: Digesting Vision Loss,” is posted at The Guild for the Blind’s website (www.guildfortheblind.org, where this essay first appeared.  Read more about Jeff on the Statement page of this site.

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