Fast track 20 years later, with the insurgence of social medias, and the demands of running my own business, I am frequently reminded of the importance of making space in my busy mind and schedule, just “to be”. Meditation, yoga, walking in nature, playing solo golf, and traveling, are a few of my favorite ways of making space and reenergizing my mind. Silent retreats have also become part of my wellness tool kit. In recent years, I’ve had the chance to combine my love of travels with yoga and meditation, by attending retreats organized by teachers from all over the world, allowing me to recharge and to broaden my professional development.
Having just come back from an 8-day meditation retreat, out of which, four days were in complete silence, I wanted to share with you some of the questions and comments I received from bewildered friends and clients, many of them curious about why I would put myself through this, and what could possibly be gained from being silent for so long.
Keep in mind that we observed a few golden rules during the silent days: no reading, no writing, no access to screens of any type (in fact, we had to turn in our cell phone.) Our days were comprised of four hours of meditation and two hours of yoga. In our free times, we were asked to stay present, simply baring witness to your surroundings, noticing when your mind started taking over, where it went, and how it can smother our experiences with random, erratic thoughts. During those free times, I often went for meditative walks, focusing on the breathtaking scenery, the crowing of the roosters, and the winds whispering down the valley. By the way, the idyllic setting of Mandala de Masca, located in Masca, Tenerife, Spain, made it quite pleasant to slow down, and work on mindfulness.
Were you silent during meals?
Yes! For me, that is an awkward part of a silent retreat. Sitting in the company of other people, some of them right in front of you, and all you can do is enjoy your meal in silence. Eating slowly and in full conscience is actually quite beneficial to the digestive system so it makes sense that the silence was extended to the meals as well. Try it at home! Eat a meal in silence, without any distractions, putting your fork down after every bite, chewing slowly, and taking the time to appreciate every bite.
Were you overcome by emotions at times?
I wish I could say yes, but no! I was quite comfortable with the silence this time around. However, I can certainly understand and sympathize with people who felt agitated and sometimes distraught. The observed silence combined with the fact that we had nothing to distract ourselves with (remember, no books, no Instagram or Facebook, no emails, no Netflix!) meant that we were confronted by our true nature. Some of us work hard at ignoring and burying emotions, needs, thoughts, which are bound to resurface eventually. One participant arrived at the retreat looking like she had the weight of the world on her shoulders. Her facial expressions and body language screamed “leave me alone!” Mid-week, during one of our meditation periods, she had a meltdown and walked away crying, distraught. At the end of the retreat, her whole demeanor had changed. She looked serene, at peace, and her body language was now relaxed and welcoming.
Were your senses heightened?
Absolutely. When you can’t distract yourself, you are bound to feel things on a deeper level. For example, there was an orange tree close by the entrance of my bedroom. I must have walked past that tree at least eight times a day, and I stopped every time (no kidding!), to smell the sweet fragrance of its flowers, look at the different stages of ripeness of the oranges, and listen to the humming sound of the bees, swarming and feasting on the flowers’ nectar. It may sound funny but that orange tree is one of the highlights of my trip.
What did you take away from the retreat?
Apart from feeling refreshed, and truly grounded, I realized (once again!) that I had developed unhealthy habits around the use of technology in the past couple of years (checking my emails incessantly, scrolling down the social media feeds when I have a few minutes to spare, and so on.) The “mini digital detox” the silent retreat provided, by taking away our cell phone, was liberating, and a catalyst to set-up healthier boundaries around the use of technology. I also realized that I’ve come a long way since my depression 20 years ago. Anxiety and panic attacks have long been replaced by acceptance, forgiveness, and a deep understanding that everything is impermanent.
If attending a silent retreat, or any of this speaks to you, keep in mind that occasionally removing all distractions from our lives can be difficult, but the benefits on our mental health and overall wellbeing are tremendous. Sustained multi-tasking is no longer regarded as a skill but rather as a way to develop a chaotic mind. Taking timeouts and cultivating mindfulness help alleviate the effects of the constant distractions we are imposing on our mind. Try it at home! Be silent for one day, turn off all cellular phones, tablets, computers, and go for a mindful walk. For one day, simply listen to the sound of silence.
Link to Mandala de Masca, Retreat Center