Earlier this year, I made a very spontaneous decision to sign up for a silent retreat in Sacred Valley, Peru (note: if you are a traveler and haven’t been to Sacred Valley or Cusco in Peru, pop them on your travel wish list immediately!) with a group of people I had never met and a destination I had never been to. Many people were intrigued by this decision, and I’ve had a lot of questions upon my return.
“Why would you choose – and pay! – to vacation in silence?”
“What’s the benefit of sitting in silence for so long?”
“Didn’t you get bored or lonely?”
These were, and are, all great questions. First of all, I have to give a massive shout out to Points of You who created this retreat experience. As a facilitator myself, I know what an incredible feat it is to bring over 20 people (from 18 different countries) together for such a powerful experience. I’m trained in the Points of You facilitation tools and love their process, so I was eager to experience their tools – and their community – in person in a retreat format.
And now back to those questions…why silence??
If you’ve been following me for a while, or have read my book (The Big Scale Back), you’ll know that I was once assigned by a therapist to sit in the silence. Every day, after work, I was to sit in silence for an hour – no phone, no tv, no conversations…just me and my thoughts. Sometimes I’d sit and stare out the window and let my mind wander, and other times I’d go for a walk.
This practice was transformational. It wasn’t easy – especially in the beginning – and it was often downright uncomfortable as thoughts and feelings bubbled up to the surface. Over time, though, as I allowed feelings and thoughts to bubble up, and gave myself space and time to tune into myself, nothing surprising was bubbling up because I was processing things regularly. This is the benefit of carving out time for silence and, why, almost a decade later, I was ready to take my silent practice to the next level and go on this silent retreat.
The benefits of silence
Time out from distractions – we live in a world of information overload, stimulus overload, and never-ending distractions. Sometimes, we might be deliberately distracting ourselves. Maybe there’s a feeling, situation or thought you’re deliberately trying to avoid thinking about. Sometimes it’s just a function of life – you might be running from one thing to the next, juggling multiple roles and responsibilities. Regardless of the reason, you may find yourself spending much of your life distracted and disconnected from yourself. In my coaching practice, this often shows up in the statement “I don’t know what I want!” If we don’t make the space to go inwards, clear the noise, and really listen to ourselves, we can be left feeling confused and frustrated about what we want in life.
Reducing dependency on others – we can spend a lot of time checking in with others to validate our decisions, or comparing our outcomes or desires to theirs. This can be a great way to connect and bond with others. And it’s wonderful to have a close circle of people in your life that you trust and can talk things through with. But/and…I want you to also cultivate an ability to forge your own path, and to listen to your own inner wisdom, intuition, gut, and guidance. Practicing silence can help you redirect your attention from what others think and feel, to what you think and feel.
Innovation and creativity – it’s very rare for creative downloads, solutions, and new ideas to come to us when we are rushing between meetings and appointments; jumping between tabs on our computer; or, scrolling through our app of choice on our phone. It’s usually in the shower, on a walk, or while we’re siting with a cup of coffee that we’ll experience an idea coming to us as if out of nowhere. By deliberately and intentionally carving out space for silence – quiet and daydreaming – you give yourself the chance to access your creativity and create new, novel connections.
You don’t need to go on a 5 day retreat to practice silence! I suggest starting with 10-15 minutes every day, at a time that feels good to you. It might be first thing in the morning (I love to daydream for 15 minutes with my coffee), or just before bed, or it might be a 10 minute pause in the middle of the day. You can sit still or walk (I recommend looking at or walking in nature if you can) – just be sure to leave your phone or any other distractions behind! When you’re beginning this practice, it may be helpful to have a particular question or issue in mind. And be sure to have a journal or notebook handy to capture any ideas or thoughts you have.
Sometimes, a strong emotion or really disruptive thought might come up. Maybe you have a big realization about something that could have big impact or implications in your life. Let the realization or emotion surface and remind yourself that you don’t have to “do” anything with it, or about it, right away. Just take note of what feels true for you, and give yourself time to think about your next steps.
Silence can be incredibly transformational because it allows you to build and maintain your relationship with yourself….and, let’s be honest: you’re hanging out with you day in and day out, so it’s a good relationship to nurture!
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