What happens in a 48 hour silent retreat?
I have been practicing mindful meditation for more than 10 years. Initially it was a tool to help me sleep better. Then to help with chronic pain. My practice was irregular and on an “as needed” basis. It was seven years before I realized how much it was needed every day.
I first started thinking about a silent retreat when I was at Kripalu, a yoga center in eastern Massachusetts. Several people were wearing signs around their necks indicating Silent Retreat. They did not make eye contact and kept their heads lowered at all times.
What strength it took to separate yourself from hundreds of people even at meals! I was intrigued. For years I would check the Kripalu catalogue thinking about doing a silent retreat, but always found other programs that I thought more useful.
Two weeks ago, after another very discouraging November election, I wanted to hibernate or move to a deserted island. Instead, I blocked off two days. Told my daughter and friends that I was disconnecting the internet and phone and taped a sign to my front door. I was giving myself a 48 hour silent retreat at home.
The anticipation was almost as energizing as planning a winter month in the tropics.
I gathered my favorite audio files from Pema Chodran and Deepak Chopra. Alexa found peaceful Zen sounds. With my journals and lots of tea, I set out on this mini-retreat. I had no agenda but to experience 48 hours with myself.
The experience was exhilarating and peaceful.
I was aware of the sound of my breathing.
I was aware of the sound of the pen on my journal pages.
I was aware of my heart beat.
I was aware of the ever changing colors behind my eyelids when meditating.
I started each morning, as I usually do, with a cup of coffee and a guided meditation followed by journaling. This usually takes about an hour. But free of any time restraints, I found myself sitting longer and writing much more.
I followed this with walking. My home is my own version of a walking labyrinth. Loops around the dining room table, through the kitchen, down the hall and back up through the bedroom to the dining room. 83 steps to a loop. Feeling each movement. Knowing that this walk was all that I had to do at this time.
Mindfulness meditation is all about the NOW…this moment only.
I have always struggled to stay in the moment. This is a struggle that I will probably always have. But I am aware of the struggle. Knowing that I was to maintain silence seemed to bring that awareness to the forefront so much more easily.
I tried to focus totally on whatever I was doing. Meditating. Writing. Walking. Cooking. Petting the dog. Listening. Seeing. Knitting. For 48 hours, I put all of my effort into my NOW.
The first night I was exhausted and went to bed at 7:30! Of course, I was wide awake at 4AM, but it was the most quiet time of my 48 hours.
As it got dark (oh, so early) the 2nd evening, I found myself pacing not walking. I was feeling ancy and contemplating turning on Netflix. But I sat myself down and began breathing. Counting my breaths. Listening to my body. Before I knew it, the anxiety passed, along with about 40 minutes. And the silence prevailed.
What did I learn from my self-guided silent retreat?
- I can do it!
- I am learning not to fixate on my anxieties.
- I can accept my meditation practice for what it is – imperfect but steadfast.
- Silence energizes me.
When I woke the morning after my 48 hours of silence, all I could think of was that I wanted more. More time to meditate. More awareness of myself. More patience with myself and the world around me.
Meditation is a journey, and my 48 hour silent retreat was a leg of my journey that I hope to repeat often.