Silence is Golden?

I went on a silent retreat at a monastery this past weekend. I do it every spring and fall. For 48 hours I don’t talk, read, write or hear a word. It is one of the happiest things I do. I go to the Benedictine Sisters Retreat Center at the Sacred Heart Monastery, and it isn’t just for Catholics. People of many different faiths attend the silent weekend—Buddhists, yogis, Jews, and plenty of Protestants.

The most asked question I get concerning the silent weekend is, “What do you do?” The answer is, “mostly, nothing.” I take walks around the beautiful grounds, sit in the sunshine or stand in the rain, take a nap, do yoga and meditate, eat the three meals prepared by the sisters, but no matter how many simple activities I come up with, there is still plenty of time for “nothing.” That means lying and looking at the texture on the ceiling, picking a blade of grass and playing with it, closing your eyes and listening to the complete silence in one of the few places you can find it these days. It’s not nothing at all, but it’s sure different from our everyday lives.

Most people I tell about the silent retreat say, “I would go crazy!” Well, there is some truth to that. The sisters require a bit of psychological screening for participants, to make sure he or she hasn’t had any recent nervous breakdowns and what not. Silence ain’t for sissies. Take away every single distraction, and the mind gets to have a heyday. I’ve heard few silent weekend participants say that it’s always a joyride. People’s minds race uncontrollably and memories arise that haven’t surfaced for decades. Some people feel terrible loneliness, and others have nightmares. I’ve experienced a few of these things myself at past retreats. The sisters are there to help. Participants know that at any time they can have a private session to talk things out if they need it. Most folks that sign up for a silent weekend are aware of all this, and know that facing the mind’s dark places can be a part of the experience.

So what’s the benefit it it’s so unpredictable and challenging? Among many things, you learn a lot about yourself. I find myself during and after the retreat saying, “So that’s what’s been going on!” or “Hmmm. I never thought about it that way before.” The elimination of mental clutter reveals clarity of thought I can’t get any other way. The retreat is also a very luxurious vacation, even though the accommodations are spare. No responsibilities, nobody to answer to (literally), no schedule, no requirements. It is a vacation in the truest sense of the word. Then there are the spiritual benefits, the real reason most people go. And I don’t think I can put those into words. It’s probably different for everyone. I can only say for myself that I feel intensely happy while I’m there, and come away with a deeper, more hopeful outlook on the world. I don’t know who I’m quoting here, but it’s been said that we don’t go into the silence to escape the world, we go to embrace it.

Comments

  1. I think that it is an awesome experience that you venture on every year. Rewarding, cleansing and very brave. I have always wanted to, but find too many distractions in life to pull it off. Some day I will turn it all off and let the mind catch up to the soul. High risk for a high reward! Congrats!

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  2. Completely beautiful! Wow...it makes me realize how much i enjoy the way you "put" things into words....hmmm....maybe it's the silent reflection that allows that to form so perfectly!

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  3. I look forward to attending one of these. Thanks so much Dori!
    I'm linking your blog to mine. If you wish to link, feel free!

    Patricia
    tattoodreams.blogspot.com

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  4. Wow--that's so cool. I think it would be really hard for me not to read or write at all for that long, but then, I might be surprised.

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