Are Silent Retreats really Silent?


We live in busy world full of noise and distraction. In today’s loud and bustling world, the idea of getting away from it all can be immensely attractive. Leaving behind the stress around work and relationships to focus on yourself and quiet while basking in nature is a much-desired dream. Choosing a silent retreat may offer an opportunity to step back from the hustle of a modern-day lifestyle filled with constant motion, noise and obligations and make that dream come true. Finding a good fit for this kind of experience takes a bit of investigation. What can you expect when attending a silent retreat? Well, that depends on what type of retreat you select.

Finding a Fit: Let’s talk about silence

The most important aspect of searching for a silent retreat fit for yourself is to explore the content offered and the way the content will be practiced. Silent retreats that focus on learning a mediation technique will offer a quiet space to practice. The structure of the retreat may be organized as a 1-day, 3-day, 10-day or any other duration. The retreat could be residential, which would mean you spend the night and stay on campus. Or it may be structured as a non-residential with only daytime attendance. Shhh…a silent retreat could put a Librarian to shame. Mandatory silence is at the heart of the retreat. Not just quiet, not soft talking or whispering, but truly no conversations with other participants. To support the silence practice, you may be instructed to not make eye contact or touch others during the retreat. The only time you hear a human voice is when the teacher is giving instructions. Some retreats do include a sharing time separate from the discourse, so participants may ask questions about experiences they are having or gather further instructions on technique. Listening, sound receptivity and the compulsion to talk float to the foreground of awareness.

Sit and Stay

A silent retreat requires you to sit, whether learning or practicing meditation. The sitting part of meditation is a lesson on its own.  Our bodies are naturally created to sit in crossed legged posture.  But due to lifestyle, we have lost this natural ability and so sitting on a cushion or mat with legs crossed for a period of time takes practice. Once comfortable in that posture, it becomes a natural way to sit for meditation.  However, if sitting down cross legged is hard, sitting on a chair or on the floor with back against the wall, legs stretched outwards is also fine.  Once seat in a position, it best to not shift too much.  That allows the minds also to settle as the body relaxes into the posture.

Take a Quiet Path to Awareness

Silence and sitting leads to observations. Here comes the meditation part. There are numerous and varied techniques for meditation. Focus on the third-eye, bring the attention to the breath, scan the body, watch your thoughts, etc. In all the different types of techniques taught, there is a fundamental teaching to all of them; the inclusion of awareness. Bring your attention to what is going on in this moment within your body and mind. This is when you find out that a silent retreat isn’t quite so silent. When busyness, talking, and movement are reduced, the chatter of the mind can be observed and heard.

The silent retreat is a space to explore your interior world without judgment; gently and with kindness. Your growing awareness of your thought patterns can change the trajectory of your life, by changing the way you respond to everything around. No small thing. The investment of your time to explore what a silent retreat can bring to your understanding is worth it.

Making the decision to attend a silent retreat truly can be golden.

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