I’ve just returned from my first silent retreat. This was a 3-day retreat on the Jersey shore at the lovely beach sanctuary, Stella Maris Retreat Center. Our group was guided by Dr. Stephen Parker, an initiate of the Himalayan Tradition (the lineage of my yoga), who was simply amazing. It was me, my yoga mat, my journal, a few books, my sketchbook, a bar of dark chocolate with cherries and a meditation shawl. No computer, emails, cell phone, iPod or any other distracting device. It was to say the least, an experience of pure bliss.
These past months leading up to this retreat, I’ve had a very different idea of how my 3 days of silence would go. Surprisingly, it went the complete opposite. I had imagined it to be a time of reflection where my inner darkness would prevail without the ability to express myself through speech, leaving me in this 3-day saddened state of tears and some kind of an overall breakdown. To be honest, I had that the weekend before at my weekend trip to Kripalu for Tara Stile’s workshop! I stayed with a girlfriend of mine in Massachusetts and we did nothing but engage in long emotional talks where we’d cry our eyes out, console one another with whatever wisdom we could, then go and practice yoga in between, HA! This went on the whole weekend for us. However, this silent experience was much different.
By silencing, I was able to clear my mind by listening to nature surrounding me. I could hear my thoughts and therefore was able to analyze them appropriately with my heart as my guide. A smile graced my face almost every moment of my silence. I finally got to the point where when a question in my mind would come up, my inner dialogue would compassionately answer it. All I heard for the full 3 days were the waves crashing on the shore, lovely birds singing their Spring song and the occasional seagull squawking above to remind me that we were on the beach.
What I noticed during my silence:
Loud to soft thoughts.
Hours into my silence, I noticed how LOUD my thoughts were. My mind was racing so fast, continuously and was extra obnoxious. But as time went on and I got deeper into my silence, my thoughts calmed. My inner dialogue spoke in a soft, slow voice. Thoughts were soothing, gentle and I was able to think much more clearly.
There is a constant radio station playing in my head. There is always a song being played in the back of my mind all day, throughout everything, even as I sleep! The songs change ev
ery few hours and are accompanied by a loud and obnoxious radio station host (my mind!) talking over the music. I actually have to imagine pressing a STOP button in my mind to turn off the station!
Slow down, become mindful.
Silence allowed me to slow down, especially during mealtime. Slowing down during meals and not speaking with others allows you to be present with your food and eat mindfully. Every meal I had I kept saying to myself how it was the BEST I’ve ever had, but in actuality I was just tasting and enjoying the food in front of me! I ate much less and walked away satisfied.
Meditation fills you up.
Meditating creates inner peace, allowing love and appreciation for your life, body and world around you that you can’t help but become enveloped with peace. I sometimes tend to overeat, to fill something up inside me that food will never be able to satisfy. Or sometimes I’ll talk badly about something or someone to make myself feel better in that brief moment, but then feel awful afterwards leaving me feeling more empty than full. The fullness that a meditation practice brings fills you up, allowing you to no longer desire to overeat, or act out of poor behavior.
Inner peace is there, always.
The core of our being is peace. We all have silence within us, it’s just a matter of tapping into that stillness and knowing how to access it during times of need. A consistent meditation practice will allow you to become aware of this peace, a silent retreat such as what I just went on, or it can be as simple as deepening your breath for a few moments each day to connect with your true nature.
The few words I uttered by accident during my silence:
“Namaste.” – at the end of one of the yoga
“Thank you.” – only whispered once, another habit!
“Is there dairy in this?” – of course I uttered this. I should have just made a sign of all my dietary needs for the chef to answer at each meal!
“Mmmm” – about 9 times with each bite of a chocolate chip zucchini walnut bread that I allowed myself to have after dinner one night. It was divine!
“Achoo!” – the sea breeze was whisking around dandelion seeds each day, what can I say.
My first thought when I woke up at 5am this morning was of a vivid wave slowly crashing. I observed each and every detail of that wave and heard each splash it made. With my eyes still closed from sleep, I smiled and knew in that moment, I had surrendered to the wave of silence.