This past week, I went on a juicy Silent Retreat lead by my mentors and Yoga on High Founders: Marcia Miller and Linda Oshins.
This retreat was called Abiding In Silence and took place in Milford, Ohio at the Jesuit Spiritual Center.
This was not my first silent retreat, therefore I knew what to expect and man... was it needed!
For those of you who are not quite sure what a Silent Retreat entails, I will explain below! However, keep in mind, all Silent Retreats are unique and my post is unique to my experience as a participant at the Abiding in Silence Retreat.
The program was designed to support the restoration and rehabilitation of retreatants. The dreamy Jesuit Spiritual Center sits on 37 acres of beautiful land, complete with gorgeous trees, a river, meditation labyrinth, walking paths, chapel over looking the river, and more.
Sleeping Arrangements: The retreat compound is composed of multiple buildings to support various groups for weekend gatherings. Our compound allowed each retreatant to occupy their own room; bathrooms are shared between halls.
Yoga Schedule: We started the morning bright and early, jumping headfirst into a one-hour pranayama class, followed by one and half hour yoga asana class. One hour meditations were interspersed throughout the day, lead in many forms (compassionate meditation, walking meditation, yoga nidra, seated meditation, karma meditation). Outside of the set schedule, I did individual practices to support what I felt was needed in that moment.
Food: We were served three meals daily, all vegetarian. I would definitely recommend bringing snacks for the weekend. The food was certainly not the highlight of the experience, however, the center does the best they can. To avoid disappointment, pack your own goodies and extras to support your dietary needs.
For those of you who have not had the opportunity to experience a silent retreat, here are some reasons why I strongly encourage it.
DROP THE NICETIES
I cannot stress how liberating it is to drop all common courtesies. This includes, "thank you", "excuse me", and "please". Also, conversational courtesies such as, "uh huh's", "oh yah's" and "absolutely's".
I never quite realized how exhausting it is to vocally and behaviorally respond to countless interactions daily... whether meeting someone entirely new & accepting the pressures of first impressions or simply nodding along to others conversation pieces, we expel a lot more energy than we realize.
SIDE NOTE: for those of you that feel you are often held hostage by conversational narcissists, read this following article written by my dear mentor & friend, Lara Falberg.
A SAFE SPACE FOR HEALING, TRAUMA, GROWTH... YOU NAME IT
*I cannot speak for other retreat programs, but I can speak about my experience and the directors of the Silent Retreat of which I partook.*
My greatest concern in yoga is when practitioners pretend to know your physical and emotional state better than you.
I can promise you one thing: no one knows your body & mind better than you do.
During our retreat, our facilitators were not there to 'coach' you through what they felt you needed to work on. This is ESSENTIAL.
As a mentor is this field, it is not our job to create judgement, nor make accusations on what we believe you to be experiencing at (any) given time.
That being said, this weekend was one of safety, acceptance, and space. The facilitators simply did that... facilitate. They did not force you to 'break down walls' or have 'revelations' about your past, present, or future.
Rather than a hand 'gently' pushing you, the retreat simply set the stage. It existed as a place that made us feel as if our presence was accepted no matter what form we decided to present. It was genuine, kind, and not in the slightest suggestive.
In a society where the expectation is to be 'new' and 'exciting', we can foster ingenuity in sacred practices, such as a Silent Retreats. So, do not be shy to do your research, ask questions, and truly identify whether or not the program is right for you.
I brought very little this weekend:
- 2 pairs of pants
- 2 shirts
- 1 sweater
- 1 scarf
- 3 books
- 1 notebook
- 1 pair of socks
- Toothbrush, toothpaste tongue scraper
- Yoga props
The goal was to remove distractions, all distractions. Therefore, I did not worry about my appearance, entertainment, etc.
My number one concern was comfort. I knew we would be sitting for extending periods pf time, therefore, I focused on packing my comfiest, roomiest clothes.
My second concern was having a good book, one that provoked thought & inspired intellect. I brought my Pranayama book by Linda Oshins, Things I Wish I Would Have Known Before I Got Married by Gary Chapman (because I am currently engaged), and Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates by Tom Robins.
SURRENDER CONNECTION TO OUTSIDE WORLD
This gave me a lot of anxiety. I fell WAY behind in work the week before the silent retreat. It also that did not help that my mother had a pretty traumatizing health scare the Wednesday before the retreat.
I am sure you can imagine, I was stressed.
Secret... I even brought my laptop, just in case..? Scandalous, I know! My thought was that if I couldn't couldn't drop the obsession of my deadline, I could theoretically work on it in my room. I didn't end up using it, but I did bring it.
We had the option to turn in our phones. I did not because I was still weary about my mother, although I left her in a complete state of health. I checked my phone once on Saturday evening to see if my siblings sent me any health updates.
Bottom Line: It was astoundingly refreshing to get the hell away from technology. For the most part, we didn't even have to keep track of time. The retreat facilitators would ring bells and coral us into the main space for afternoon sessions, meals, wake-up calls, etc.
It was liberating.
COAT-CHECK YOUR EXPECTATIONS
My greatest success was coming in to this retreat with no expectations or 'goals'. It probably helped that I was running around like a maniac the week before & simply didn't have time to specify my desired accomplishments for the weekend.
This was not my first retreat, therefore I didn't experience the 'first time' jitters. Silent Retreats are almost never what you expect. Might as well do yourself a favor and coat-check your expectations at the door.
Really, the only think you can count on is your monkey brain. Not one single person was in a state of complete bliss for three days. I can promise you that.
You are a part of the Human Experience; complex in nature, our minds (professionally) deviate, complicate, and obsess whether to our advantage or not. This is why most Silent Retreats interweave practices of yoga asana, meditation, and pranayama... to prepare the body for deep resolve.
TRUST THAT EVERYONE IS HEALING
One of my greatest takeaways: understanding that everyone has trauma and is doing what they can in that moment to be 'okay'.
Never assume. We can't possibly be right. After all, we are all having entirely unique experiences in this world... how could we possibly know the life, experiences, heartbreaks, joys, and all else of everyone we encounter?
Sometimes I think if we did, the world would be a kinder place. However, that is not an option, so until then - do your best nip your judgments in the bud and hold compassion and strength for others around you.