I just returned from a 5-day silent retreat and everyone keeps asking me - so, what was it like? And how did you not speak for 5 whole days?
To be honest - it wasn’t so much the not talking part that bothered me, I actually quite enjoyed that, it was harder to purposely not distract myself. I chose not to look at my phone, read or write in my journal. My days were spent in total silence, without any screens, books or technology to distract me. I meditated while walking, while sitting, and ate slow mindful meals. Most importantly, I got quiet and learned how enjoyable it is to eliminate the noise we are distracted with daily.
By slowing down and taking time, it allowed me to realize some things and put some change in my daily habits into effect. Here are 3 ways I’ve changed since the experience and lessons you can take away, even if you don’t have the opportunity to try a silent retreat yourself.
1. Be kind to yourself
I am totally guilty of always wanting things to be harmonious, balanced and a-ok. The reality of life, however, is that we are going to experience the good with the bad. What was illuminated for me on retreat was that ‘the bad things in life’ (or dukka as referred to in Pali, the 2500 Buddhist language) are inevitable and we need to welcome them in the same way we welcome ‘the good’. You know that little voice inside of you that criticizes you and over thinks when something doesn’t go your way? I now recognize it not as a voice of truth, but simply another distraction. When soothing myself internally I now include words like ‘it’s okay my love’ rather than ‘you are bad or wrong’. So I know bad things will come, but my relationship to it has changed, and I’m much more patient and kind with myself.
2. To reconnect with yourself, you’ve got to disconnect from the noise of the outside world
Making the space to sit in total silence is a powerful experience. Without my phone, mindless scrolling, Netflix shows to catch up on, a slew of emails to tackle, and an endless to-do list, I was truly free. I had the time and space to get close to my thoughts, recognize them, and process them. I had SO much more awareness of the small details around me: the smells, textures, tastes, and sounds I would have normally missed had I had other outside distractions.
3. Choose your words mindfully, not just to fill space
Without the ability to communicate with my words, I noticed how so often we talk just to fill space without considering the powerful residue our words create. These days I’ve been considering how I feel after certain remarks, how others react, and how I can speak in a way that inspires and comes from my highest self. Being quiet and only speaking when I feel I have something important to say is a new practice I am implementing.
Samara Zelniker is a yogi, wine drinker, pet lover and travel junkie.