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In order to talk about what a silence retreat is or at least what it is for me, I need to start by talking about what a retreat is.
The word “Retreat” refers to the act of withdrawing. So when we say that we are going to a retreat, what we are doing is withdrawing from our daily lives. In our day to day we are faced with many situations that cause us dissatisfaction, irritability, sadness, frustration… We can also see, or at least see in my experience, the attachments, which could sometimes, in a serious extreme, be classified as addictions. For instance, spending too much time watching TV or on the Internet. The list of dependencies or attachments can be very extensive.
Therefore, in a retreat what we are doing is withdrawing or moving away from everything that can cause us discomfort in order to learn to be with ourselves. On one occasion I read a definition of “retreat” that went like this: “a withdrawal syndrome from our daily lives.” Although we are accompanied by more people, being silent we are facing our mind and perhaps we can realize how much we tend to hide from ourselves.
We leave our comfort zone, our routines, we have to adapt to certain schedules, to certain meals. We cannot access technological devices (mobile, internet …) nor can we get up in the middle of the night to go to the fridge and eat anything, maybe an ice cream. All these conditions may make us uncomfortable and, being in a silence retreat, we cannot communicate it to anyone. We are in a totally different situation and it is here that we can begin to identify and realize everything that we tell ourselves: our thoughts, judgments, which can sometimes become a little bit disturbing. It is important to know that they are the fruit of our mind and try to keep calm. We will always be able to talk if we need it with a person from the organization.
In a silence retreat we can find very deep experiences that have to do with our inner world and, as much as we try to explain it, sometimes they are difficult to convey. These experiences can be very transformative and help us realize conditions and habits deeply rooted in our unconscious. These habits have us repeating, unconsciously, patterns and judgments that cause us dissatisfaction or discomfort. It is when we realize this that we can begin to dismantle these habits and gain a deeper sense of freedom. Years ago, I participated in a retreat led by Vidyamala Burch, one of the people who created the Breathworks MBPM mindfulness program, and she said a few words that remained engraved in my mind since then. She affirmed that “we are slaves of our habits”.
Therefore, the benefits of a silence retreat are plentiful. Apart from the above comments, being there you feel tranquillity, a deeper sense of serenity and connection, a clearer mind. You may realize your mind is calmer and you don’t need so much external stimulation in order to be happy. After a silence retreat there is an increased awareness of the amount of noise that surrounds us and that may cause us a state of stress. This retreat experiences may also make you aware of the fact that most conversations do not contribute or enrich you. I do not say this in a critical or negative way, just as something to reflect on.
An important aspect that must be considered is the general pretention that, after a retreat, everything will be just as calm, something unrealistic. We will continue to be bombarded with stimuli, situations, setbacks. Knowing how to interact with our surroundings in a more conscious, calm and friendly way will help us stay in our centre. For this we should be constant with our meditation practices.
If you have never been in a silence retreat, my recommendation is to start with a short two or three-day guided retreat. Making a longer retreat straight away may produce some degree of anxiety.
Gathering information about the retreat venue or who will lead the retreat, will give us more guarantees about the experience that we will embark on, something very important in an experience of these characteristics.
Sometimes we spend crazy amounts of money on tasks that are useless or whims that we may not even need. Why not invest a little money on our personal growth? It may be more beneficial.
Taking part in a silence retreat helps you change the perspective, identify your mindset and the judgments we make. It brings you closer to yourself and helps you know yourself a little better and, in the long run, this is what gives us experience and equanimity.