Simplicity Challenge #8: Retreating into Silence
Have you ever done a silent retreat?
It’s one of those weeks or weekends where you head to a pretty location, usually somewhere close to nature… then, upon arrival, hand in your cell phone, laptop, and any other gadget that connects you to the outside world.
Then, you spend your days reading, meditating, introspecting, or spending just spending time in nature.
So, what’s the point of it all?
While it might sound like something designed for people with too much time on their hands, I assure you that the busiest among us are probably the ones who can benefit the most.
That’s because, as corny or cliché as it may sound, I believe that happiness can only come from within us…
If we rely on external circumstances, we’ll never truly be happy, or at peace. Even in good times, there are always some fire to put out, and everything “going well” is often a delicate balance that requires a lot of upkeep all the time.
So, I find it more practical and effective to find a deep pool of calmness within myself, rather than being rocked back and forth by outside factors that I really can’t control. In fact, that’s the main reason I started meditating over 8 years ago.
But how do we find this calm, inner center of ourselves? The place we can go for peace of mind while the rest of the world around us is crazy busy and full of challenges?
Well, it might be different for everyone — but, surely it does NOT come from being caught up in too many obligations and distractions.
For that reason, being forced to be alone with ourselves — with no jobs, phone notifications, emails, or
conversations — can be a good way to get back in touch with who we really are.
What do you really think about all day?
When I spent a few days at a silent retreat center, my thoughts seemed louder than ever…
I have probably hundreds of thoughts that go through my head each day — many positive, but lots of them focused on worries — but I didn’t really “hear” them until I was forced to be quiet. Because in my busy day-to-day life, there’s always an email or something else to distract me from those thoughts.
In other words, the thoughts and worries were there the whole time, but this process helped me to become fully aware of them. And that was one of the best ways to really tackle them and clear my mind.
Of course, clearing my mind took some work, introspection, and practice — and meditation helps immensely, too — but often, the first step is awareness of the problem. Only after becoming aware of it is it possible to find a solution.
What to do during a silent retreat
The biggest question I always get is this: “Don’t you get bored?”
And the honest answer is, no, I don’t…
Maybe it’s because I’ve still got a pretty active imagination… or, maybe it’s because I’m kind of a loner at heart… but the truth is, I really don’t get bored when I have time to myself like that. Actually, I was surprised at how quickly the days went by, when I factored in time to read books, meditate, cook my food, and go for walks.
But even if you’re not like me — even if you get bored if you go for just a few minutes without some sort of entertainment — let me ask you this…
Is being bored really such a bad thing?
Generations before us — who didn’t have food and shelter so readily available — certainly had much more serious problems than being bored…
And, often boredom is the place from which big ideas originate…
You’ve probably heard of dozens of examples like this, such as J.K. Rowling coming up with the idea for Harry Potter while on a train ride, with nothing to do but let her mind wander.
Letting our minds relax, without distraction, can really be the best way to connect with our own creativity, in addition to helping us find our own inner peace and happiness.
If boredom is the gatekeeper to that part of the mind, then I say, bring on the boredom!
How to set up a silent retreat
If you really want the full experience, it helps to go to a place designed for it. Somewhere where you can have beautiful scenes of nature — and, where someone else holds on to your phone so you won’t be tempted to look at it. (And note, there are phones at the facility, in case anyone needs to get ahold of you for a true emergency.)
Often these places are expensive — but, they don’t have to be. Just do some price shopping.
My meditation group has a place where I can stay for free with just a minimal donation to cover the cost of the food I’m eating and the upkeep of the facility (which is totally reasonable, in my opinion). And, there may be other places like that that are lower-cost.
Or, if you really want to save, try setting up your own silent retreat at home!
Even if it’s just for a weekend… or, even just a couple of hours, if that’s all you can spare right now.
That could be enough for you to relax and recharge… to let go of nagging thoughts, slow down, and rediscover that calm center part of yourself that is your secret weapon against stress in an overly busy world.