What is a silent retreat, and why would you actually want to put yourself through that? I get this question a lot, so I thought it was a good time to answer it. Right now, while I am in the moment!
I really am in the moment because I have just completed a personal Noble Silence Retreat, which means silence of the body, speech, and mind. I consider it a private retreat because I put it together myself, my rules, no one else. This type of time can not only be enjoyable, but you can also come out the other side feeling like you just had a relaxing two-week vacation. I will shed some light on what it's like and how you can put one together yourself, from an hour to a day for you or you and some pals. I just checked out of the retreat center and I am outlining this episode in the pouring rain, sitting in a little screened-in gazebo. Insert rain sounds and the smell of fall, and let's get going.
Hey there, Alexa Z here. While I do my best not to be judgmental, truth be told, I often want to smack a person when they find out I am off to be silent for a bit, and they respond by outwardly laughing. If you know me or perhaps just know me through this podcast, you may think, wow, this type-A woman seems never to shut up, it must be impossible for her to be silent. Well, if you really knew me, you would also know that I describe myself as an introvert hiding in an extrovert's body.
Time alone, time in silence and time in reflection is more than something I crave, it is something that I must have if I am to continue a life of hard work, maintain my health, monitor a lifelong relationship with anxiety and hopefully help mankind in any way that I can along the way.
If you think you want some of what I had, keep listening, and in the end, I will make sure you too can design an hour or so of silence for yourself!
This week I was supposed to be on a structured 10 Noble Silence Retreat that I had been looking forward to for a very long time, but I canceled it because my Mother in Law had been ill, and it became apparent that spending time with her was more important. Unfortunately, this time was cut short by her passing, and on the time I record this, we will have had her funeral and come together to celebrate her life.
After the funeral arrangements were complete, I headed off to a place called Bon Secours for what was supposed to be 8 hours of silence, but I decided to stay, and as of now, I am leaving at my 24th hour and can't wait to return soon.
Bon Secours is a Retreat and Conference Center in Maryland and is a ministry of the sisters of Bon Secours. This podcast is secular, and so are my teachings, and please note that anyone can go to Bon Secours. It is open to the public! But on a side note, isn't it lovely to know that their mission, founded in 1822 in Paris, France was to care for those who are sick and dying, whereby I feel it is a lovely healing/peaceful environment.
Before you get all wiggy about religion and start deciding what my retreat was like, let me set you straight. Yes, I was raised Catholic, but this is not about religion, this is about a space that is created for all people to come and stay in peace and no one can say that isn’t a sacred thing. The silence is respected, and no one feels weird that others walk by you in silence either with a downward gaze or a nod. All strangeness flies out the window, and you enter feeling like your lungs have grown to epic proportions, and you can take a giant deep breath.
Let me give you a run-down of my 24 hours but don't get overwhelmed, remember this is MY VERSION of joy. After we can entertain some ways, you might find comfort in a quick retreat!
I planned to arrive at noon, get settled in my room, meditate, and then join a 1 pm 60-minute silent contemplative hour that I found out they do every Tuesday. Lucky me! After that, I would sit in silence and practice conscious eating of the yummy salad that I picked up on the way to the center. It's my favorite, lots of colored veggies, artichokes, red roasted peppers, several pickled veggies and chickpeas, a sight to see, and textures to relish. Just before the Contemplative hour (think the Catholic version of meditation), I remembered I left the salad in my car and figured I better get it and put it in the fridge. I ran out to the car only to find that the salad was not there, I left it on the counter at the café I bought it at. I was so mesmerized by the rose petal steaming tea I purchased, that I put the lid on the drink and proceeded to leave without my lunch. This alone was proof that I needed to slow down. Also, dinner wasn't until 6. Already my retreat was not going as planned as I hate being hungry.
Ok, off to contemplation and try not to contemplate my hunger.
Meditation and Mindfulness are about a life of stillness and activity. We are human, and we are meant to be active! However, this is the hard part, right? We sit in stillness, look inside for inner quiet and then suddenly – whammo – our body gets uncomfortable, we have an itch, our mind starts to wander, etc.
It is all a Tug of War, and what a retreat can do is structure silence with movement over and over to balance our internal and external world, calming the mind, body, and energy. Here are a few quotes that I like to mingle together to add some sense or maybe some food for thought:
Meditation is a journey without movement. In the external world, you have to move in order to go ahead, in meditation you don't move, yet you attain. ~Rama Swami
The external world is a canvas where you paint the colors of your soul. ~ Michael Beckwith
The happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts ~ Marcus Aurelius
If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind itself is controllable – what then? ~ George Orwell
So, for me this retreat was about spending time with myself, my soul, whatever you want to call it and not looking for any answers.
Let me take you on a path of what my day-to-day retreat looked like. I won't into great detail but I want to give you enough information so you can understand what I mean when I talk about the tug-of-war of the body and mind.
I arrived, got settled, did a little bit of quiet time
o A labyrinth is a patterned path, often circular in form and I use it for my walking meditation. A labyrinth's walkway is arranged in such a way that you move back and forth across the circular form through a series of curves, ending at the labyrinths' heart or center and then gently walk my way out.
A lot of resting, gentle movement, resting and more gentle movement. How will you sleep after all that rest? It actually makes you really tired.
When I woke up, I sat down for a 45-minute meditation. You may also be thinking, after all of that sleep, silence the day before, you must be ready to get going again; it just the opposite that 45-minute meditation felt like 5 minutes.
To put your own mini silent retreat together you can also add other things like: Yoga Nidra, mindless wandering, conscious eating, journaling (stream of consciousness) and end with a bubble bath!
There are so many things you can do! If you want a list of ideas, go to alexazmeditates.com/retreat for a free checklist of ideas!
Checklist to Create Your Own Retreat
Bon Secours Retreat & Conference Center