The last few days I have been tucked away on a silent retreat. Reflecting on this experience, I feel compelled to share a few of the many lessons I learned in this time. Although this will be different (and longer 🙂 ) than my usual posts, I hope you will find some of these insights to be as valuable and as empowering as I do.
Since many people may be wondering what a silent retreat is, I will give some context by sharing a little about the retreat itself. It was just what you would think, a bunch of people in silence. No television, no computer, no phone, no books, no talking. While there was time for walking, meditating, yoga, etc., a large portion of my time was purely spent sitting and thinking. It was lead by two incredible souls, Cassandra Wallick (amazing yoga teacher and owner of Gilbert Yoga) and Patty Van Herpen (one of the most gifted cooks I have ever met), who both added fun, insight and love to the whole retreat. We were blessed with cool nights and warm days in northern Arizona that allowed for us to absorb the depths of green pine trees, blue skies and lots of fun critters.
Below listed out are just some of the interesting realizations I had along the way. The insights from this experience will inspire many of my future posts since I had much time to reflect on exactly what this site is about, finding true fulfillment.
It’s easier than you think – Everyone I talked to prior to going on this retreat said, “I could never do that”. While I understand the hesitation, I had some myself, it really is easier than you think. Aside from finding it hard not to say things like “Good Morning”, “Thank you” or “Bless you” when someone sneezes, I felt a strange sense of relief to not have to talk. Not feeling the pressure to fill the air with noise was freeing and rewarding. Our bodies crave some silence, and I found after just a few moments my nerves relaxed and my body and mind felt peace. This peace is something that we need in order to give our minds and bodies true rest from the daily stimulation we encounter and we can benefit greatly from adding it into our lives.
Mindful eating– I am a super fast eater and I generally do so with some sort of distraction whether it is reading, television or a conversation. To eat in silence and be challenged to slow down and truly experience every bite was new to me. Really focusing on my food gave the experience a sense of wonder I have never had while eating. I not only fully enjoyed every bite (especially because it was amazing food), but I developed a deep sense of gratitude for having food to eat. Meal by meal this gratitude expanded from the earth for providing the food to all the people that were involved in getting it to me (farmers, truckers, store employees and of course who cooked it). This practice also made me incredibly aware of the nutrition in the food I was eating. Coming back I find myself not wanting to eat anything that won’t feed my body health and energy. If you have never tried truly sitting and focusing only on your food while you eat, you are missing a simple but powerful joy in life and I highly recommend it be a practice you start.
True relationship building – I am eternally grateful to the women who shared this experience with me, without them I don’t believe it would have been the same. Being with people for days without really knowing much more than their first name sounds like it would be a bit strange, but I felt a connection and a relationship form with each person without us saying a word. We shared experiences, meals, and meditations all without talking or sharing stories of who we are. This allowed a bond to form without any judgments or perceptions. We can make so many assumptions about people when we learn what work they do, where they live, if they are parents, etc. This experience showed me that when you take away all of that, there is a deeper level of connection you can build with people. Not attaching our perceptions, judgments and assumptions to peoples stories can create a genuine knowing of who they are, a lesson that will change the way I shape relationships forever.
Where do you spend your time? – I was so amazed by what I found myself missing and what I didn’t even think about. The only activities I really missed were reading, writing, playing with my dogs and listening to music; all things I never give enough time to. I did not miss checking my phone for e-mails or texts. I did not miss randomly scrolling through Facebook or getting lost in random Internet sites for hours. I did not miss television. This really brought me back to assessing what it is that I do with the time I have and if I am spending it on things I love. I also found myself doing things that don’t always get time in my daily life, but I truly love, like taking slow walks, sitting with a cup of tea and staring at the trees or journaling. If you have not recently assessed where you spend your time, take this as motivation to do so. It is incredible how much time we can spend on things that don’t truly matter to us if we don’t bring awareness to it.
You don’t need anything – Aside from clothing, I didn’t have any of my “stuff”. And I didn’t need it either. We grow attachments to odd things in our lives and sometimes feel as though we need them. As long as we have food and warm clothes, we don’t really need much else. Finding a way to detach from the things we carry with us can be very freeing. There is a sense of simplicity when you have less attached to you and it allows your mind to freely explore what things truly matter. This is an easy lesson to practice daily by just minimizing what we buy and letting go of the things we don’t need.
Living in the moment – Once you spend enough time in silence, your mind does this amazing thing and temporarily stops the chatter. When this happens, you are able to fully just be in the moment you are in, absorbing every ounce of it. This awareness brought the most incredible sense of joy and gratitude. Truly experiencing everything the current moment has to offer without the mind distracting you is where the beauty in life truly lies. True happiness is here, in this moment, if you keep your mind from pulling you away from it. There are no problems, no fears, and no regrets in this present moment. Bringing this knowing to the everyday is key in truly living all that life has to offer.
I realize that many don’t have the ability to spend days in silence, however even if you add in some time to your daily life you will see these benefits. Give yourself space to think, to process your emotions and thoughts. Release the pain from your past and fear of the future in order to be in this very moment, embracing all of it. This simple act of bringing some silence into our lives can bring more joy than we realize. May this inspire you to take a step to limit the noise in your life and truly find the beauty in silence.