February 14, 2019

A Deeper Dive: Reflections on a Four-Year Silent Meditation Retreat

Susan and Bill Morgan, in part one of a seven-part video series, reflecting on their four-year silent meditation retreat at IMS’s Forest Refuge. (View the full series below, or at YouTube.)
By John Spalding

Wherever we may be in our practice, we’ve all at times asked ourselves: What would it be like if I sat a little longer? Perhaps after our first afternoon, or daylong silent retreat, we thought—“I was really able finally to settle in there and experience stillness. It was powerful, and some interesting thoughts arose. What would sitting two days be like? Or three? What if I did a full week of silent meditation? What deeper levels of insight and compassion might unfold then?”

Few have understood and heeded this call of the cushion quite like Bill and Susan Morgan. For years, this Boston couple, both of whom are meditation teachers and longtime meditators, had been coming to the Insight Meditation Society’s Forest Refuge to sit silent retreats for three months every year. Some years, they have sat for three months straight. For others, they’ve sat for two six-week periods. For several years in a row, they sat in silence for one week each month.

Then, one day in 2009, Susan said to Bill, “I think we should do a deeper dive. Let’s really step out, and go more deeply into the practice.” Her proposal? A two-year silent meditation retreat.

That November, the couple—Bill, a clinical psychologist, and Susan, a psychiatric nurse, both with private practices—made arrangements to undertake their two-year journey in stillness. Bill found coverage for his clients; Susan closed her practice. They rented out their home, and settled in at the Forest Refuge. Located in the woods adjacent to IMS’s Retreat Center, the Forest Refuge is designed for experienced practitioners seeking longer-term retreat practice for periods ranging from a minimum of seven nights to stays of a year or more.

After two years, Susan and Bill decided to continue sitting for another year. After that, they stayed on for yet another, final year, emerging from the Forest Refuge in December 2013, after four years of silence, with only two weeklong breaks each year to check on their affairs at home.

Now, in a series of seven videos entitled, “A Deeper Dive: Reflections on a Four-Year Silent Meditation Retreat,” Bill and Susan look back on their experiences at the Forest Refuge, sharing how they came to the idea to commit to such a prolonged period of practice, the challenges they faced along the way, and several profound insights they gleaned both about themselves as individuals, and as a couple, practicing side-by-side every day, without speaking, for four years.

To view this series, click first video at the top of this page, followed by the others, below, or visit IMS’s YouTube channel.

Bill and Susan Morgan will be teaching a course entitled “Cultivating the Holding Environment: Setting Up the Posture of Mindfulness,” at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies, April 17-21, 2019. For more information, visit BCBS’s website.

“How It Began,” part 1 of “A Deeper Dive,” with Bill and Susan Morgan.

“Aligning Mind, Heart & body,” part 2 of “A Deeper Dive,” with Bill and Susan Morgan.

“Levels of Unwinding,” part 3 of “A Deeper Dive,” with Bill and Susan Morgan.

“Intention & Settling,” part 4 of “A Deeper Dive,” with Bill and Susan Morgan.

“Mindfulness & Gratitude,” part 5 of “A Deeper Dive,” with Bill and Susan Morgan.

“Life Back Home,” part 6 of “A Deeper Dive,” with Bill and Susan Morgan.

“Psychotherapy & Meditation,” part 7 of “A Deeper Dive,” with Bill and Susan Morgan.