Is a silent retreat worth it?
Yes. 100% worth it.
Work from home stress?
General world events have you anxious?
I’m not trying to be exaggerative or alarmist, but I can’t help but notice a growing anxiety building in people around me.
Coming back from the silent retreat, I feel a sense of distance from the events happening around me and in me. Allowing me to process them a bit better than I was able to.
I’d been meaning to attend a silent retreat for the last 3 years, but given COVID, the only options were online-only. Once I saw an in-person course open at the Art of Living center in Boone, NC, I immediately jumped on the opportunity.
My silence retreat experience
What you can expect in the next few lines are a description of the ashram, my experience with the silent retreat, and a few notable moments from the retreat.
The Art of Living Ashram is 380+ acres of sprawling and stunning views, a striking meditation hall, and miles of nature trails. You immediately dip into a zen state once you drive into the space.
The course consisted of 4 days of silence.
You might be thinking that you drive up to the ashram, and then don’t talk for 4 days, when you’re done — you pack up your bags and head back home.
Yeah, it’s not like that.
The silent retreat is a set of meditations that helps you remove the noise (internal and external), so you can peel back the layers of what makes you tick, and better understand the subtleties of your emotions.
I imagine it as four strata.
Layer 1 — Societal Input
This first layer are any inputs you consume.
- Your cell phone notifications.
- Your Facebook, Instagram, or TikTok scrolling.
- Watching Stranger Things on Netflix or the newest entrepreneurial guru on YouTube.
- Reading your emails, communicating on Slack, or Microsoft Teams.
The first phase was to remove all outside input. So, I turned off my phone, closed my computer, put away my Kindle, and removed all forms of external stimulation.
Layer 2 — Your Mapping and Biases
Simply, this is talking.
The silent part of the silent course. When you talk; you’re mapping, deflecting, judging, defending, offending, and exercising your biases in real-time.
So, in the course — you don’t talk. There is no convincing, no negotiating, no requesting. You eat the food they give you, you show up to the meditation hall, and you remain in silence.
Obviously, if there is an emergency, please talk.
Layer 3 — Your Thoughts
Under your ‘talk’ there are a set of rules you abide by. These have been ingrained in you through your culture, your upbringing, and your experiences.
Your thoughts are the operating system that run you.
These drive how you act, how you treat other people, and your general views on the world.
Layer 4 — Emotional Super Strings
Superstrings vibrating in the nth dimension under your thoughts.
If I’m losing you, stick with me for a second.
This is a bit abstract, but I define them as a river of emotions that your mind inflicts upon you, your hormones, how you feel after a meal, and the general time of day (plus a plethora of other factors).
It’s a mix of internal inflicted emotions and external variables that drive how you’re feeling in this moment.
While I was in silence; I would randomly be happy, sad, mad, angry, plus the spectrum of other feelings you would experience. Like a river of emotions that would present themselves.
Once you peel away layers 1 and 2, the meditations and breathing exercises get you to touch and observe these superstrings. View them in the 3rd person. Allowing me to distance myself from my emotions.
When you start adding layers 3, 2, and 1 —these emotions at the fourth level drive how you react to situations in your day-to-day.
You might lash out at your husband (or wife), feel off when you wake up in the morning, or type a Slack message to your colleague that you shouldn’t have sent.
Distancing yourself from your emotions allows you to observe how you’re feeling in that moment, so you can better react to what the world throws at you.
The silent retreat gave me a glimpse of what it feels like to distance yourself from your emotions.
In How to Think like a Roman Emperor, by Donald J. Robertson. The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius also touches on this.
What matters, in other words, isn’t what we feel but how we respond to those feelings.
Elsewhere he says that the pleasant and unpleasant sensations in the body inevitably impinge on the mind because they’re part of the same organism. We shouldn’t try to resist them, but rather we should accept their occurrence as natural, as long as we don’t allow our mind to add the judgment that the things we’re experiencing are good or bad.
I would 100% recommend attending a silent retreat. The Art of Living program requires a ‘prerequisite’ before jumping into the course; The Happiness Course sets the foundation for the breathing exercises you practice during the silent retreat.
I’m attempting to make this a yearly tradition where I can continue to remove the plaque over these superstrings and get closer to better understanding my emotions and how I react to the world.
Here are some other images from the retreat
Music I was listening to while I wrote this
DakhaBrakha — an amazing quartet from Ukraine.
This is day 33 of my #90DayOfProse challenge.