I had heard about silent retreats for years but had never considered going to one. Being Indian, conversations about meditation and silence seemed to be in my DNA, but I just rolled my eyes when my extended family or my parents’ friends were talking about these topics. I thought it was comical that all these people would claim to meditate on a regular basis or spend time in total silence. As far as I was considered they were all crazy. Their lives didn’t seem special nor did they model what I thought spiritual people should be. I dismissed it all with condescension and arrogance through my twenties and thirties.
By 35 I was doing very well professionally, but being ‘successful’ at work took its toll on my life. The constant travel, stress and 24/7 nature of my job was wearing me down. I had to figure out a way to manage it all. As a last resort, I started meditating for 5 minutes a day. In about six months, it turned into a morning meditation practice. It helped with my stress levels, but I still felt distracted and I couldn’t concentrate for long periods.
I had to step it up a bit. Miraculously, as the universe is always looking out for us, I was offered a chance to attend a one-day silent retreat. This meant being completely silent for 12 full hours. No talking. No phone. No computer. No iPad. No reading. No eye contact with anyone else at the retreat. I was allowed to journal, draw, walk or sleep. Basically no outside influences. Just me and myself.
All those years of looking down on the spiritual practices made me pause before signing up. I figured it couldn’t hurt to try this since basic meditation had certainly helped but wasn’t enough. I felt desperate.
I shared my intention with friends and family. Some were thrilled for me, but most were like, “12 hours of complete silence, really?” [By the way, in the traditional Indian and ancient Buddhist practices, 12 hours is not a real silent retreat. In fact, 12 hours is for wimps! Most authentic silent retreats are a minimum of 7-10 days!]
In 2013, I attended my first one-day silent retreat. Once I checked in, I had to give up my phone. It felt weird. Given that my phone had been such a big part of my daily work life, I used to joke that the only way I was not going to use it was if it were surgically removed. Shutting that phone down for 12 hours was a VERY BIG DEAL for me.
It took about 3 hours before I stopped thinking about all the emails/text messages I was missing. Some of you might think that’s pathetic, but that’s where I was at that time.
At about hour 4, I decided to relax and stop worrying about the outside world. Then, the real work began. The silence inside my head was deafening. Not making eye contact with the 20 people around me was weird. The whole experience felt really annoying. I was restless. I decided to go outside in the backyard and just sit on the well-manicured lawn. My mind was all over the place. I had so many random, useless thoughts. Those thoughts continued until lunch.
Once it was time for the midday meal, I joined the group in the kitchen for food. This was a new challenge: getting food and drink, all the while trying to avoid eye contact,or any contact, with the people around me. I had to take my plate back outside because I didn’t want to hear the noises people make when they eat. [Crunch, crunch, slurp, slurp, knife screech on a plate. ARGHHH! ]
In the afternoon, there was a group meditation session. We were told to sit in one room and meditate for an hour. Now that, I could do. This practice calmed my mind down quite a bit.
At 6 hours in, I finally felt ok. I thought, “I can actually do another hour or two (tops) of being in silence.” But we had another 6 hours to go. This was going to be a long afternoon and evening.
I decided to journal and ended up writing a poem (um, I am not a poet) that I still have and am very proud of.
I have to say, the rest of the day was hard for me. It felt distracting; anything but calm and peaceful. My mind was a shit-show. I felt every emotion…crazy, isolated, twitchy, sad, happy, joyous, devastated. I just rolled with it, journaled and gave into my feelings.
We spent our last hour meditating again. I was very thankful the day was almost done. Once the event ended and I couldn’t wait to jump on my phone. I was also very excited to go back to my normal life.
Two days later, I meditated in the morning as I had always done. My mind went quiet faster and I had a “deeper” experience. It freaked me out a bit (in a good way) but I was surprised. As the week progressed, I noticed that I was less stressed and it seemed to take longer for me to get annoyed at things that went sideways at work.
In hindsight, my first 12-hour silent retreat had a big impact on me. If you are interested in experiencing the benefits of silence, calm and meditation, please join us on Nov. 11th at the Serra Retreat in Malibu. For more information contact us.