Not long ago I was invited to attend a three day silent retreat in Vail. The promoter’s main selling point was “No-one will be allowed to speak aloud during our time together for three amazing days.” They promised me the silence I experience would help me achieve a focused introspective experience and I could finally achieve life balance as a result.
Now, to be very clear, this weekend wasn’t a guided meditation experience. I think I would actually enjoy discovering how to meditate and take classes from talented people who have mastered this amazing practice. No, this was simply a weekend of mandatory quiet time where I would be required to take a “temporary vow of silence.” OK. So I’m still a little intrigued. Introspective time sounds good.
Let’s see, what else? There would be no seminars during the retreat but I could take long walks by myself, have lots of “me” time and stay at an amazing 5-Star hotel with a spa and hot tub in my room. It actually sounded much like my lonely life before I got married.
So I asked myself, could I actually not talk to anyone for three days? Those of you that know me or any other professional speaker may have some insights here. I talk for a living. I didn’t become a professional speaker by accident, it was destiny. It’s always been easy for me to talk to others. Today, I talk to everyone. I talk with people at the airport, at hotels, when I get my hair cut, at the bank and yes I talk to my cats when I’m in my home office. (Of course I don’t call my cats to talk to them when I’m traveling…..that would be weird. I haven’t done that once since I got married.
What could go wrong with me being at a silent retreat?
My mind instantly filled with perplexing scenarios of things that could happen if I was unable to vocalize.
What if I had a gall stone? Could I mime the symptoms of a gall stone? What if the silence overlords misinterpreted my gall stone mime attempt to mean “Please sir, may I have more stew?” I like stew but what I would really need after a big bowl of stew would probably still be an internist.
Following my gall stone mime, it would be a perfect opportunity to have a rousing discussion with others on how “mime” and “pantomime” are different. Alas, I’m sure that would not be allowed and the insights we could develop together would be lost forever.
Asking for salt or pepper at dinner would be doable without speaking, but what if I wanted a unique condiment like Grey Poupon mustard? I’d probably have to settle for ketchup. I love Grey Poupon.
I suddenly realized why these silent retreats were gaining in popularity. If they make me this introspective prior to me even attending the event then the silence must really do amazing things for a silent retreater.
Still, to me a silent retreat would be like going to a Renaissance Festival and not being permitted to talk as I imagined they did in 16th century London, wear my chain mail and say, “Hail, and well met” to everyone.
I have several good friends that do silent retreats every year and I admire that. I’m pretty sure I haven’t yet achieved that degree of enlightenment.
For some reason this silent retreat seems more like a punishment than reward and reminds me of when I was little if I got in trouble I would be sent to a corner to ponder my misdeeds in silence, in school the occasional detention was once again being compelled to sit quietly alone and contemplate being a better student.
Maybe I’m overthinking all this (silently). I do know this, silence may be golden but you don’t have to pay for it.
I won’t be accepting this invitation for a weekend silent retreat. I do suspect it would be enlightening but I feel I’d better first try to first go two hours without talking to my cats. I will continue to be silent from time to time on purpose.
We do live in a world of information clutter, unnecessary noise and people who talk just to hear the sound of their own voices. There is no question people should seek the silence as well as the inner wisdom and music all around us. I’ve discovered however how to tune all this out myself without being told when to talk or not talk.
You can hire someone to “be the boss of you” for the weekend or just take my advice and make the time every day to seek a quiet place and relax or be still for 1 minute.
Studies have shown that noise pollution and digital distraction creates stress and increases negativity. Quiet time is not a new concept so I wasn’t surprised to discover it can reduce blood pressure, lessen stress and promotes resilience.
Starting is easy. Just “give it a go” tonight before you go to bed. Instead of watching the news and retiring for the night stressed and worried, take that time and be still instead. Start small and build to a longer quiet time. Find a quiet place and be still for one minute on purpose. Turn off your phone too. You can do that. My wife started me including this practice into my daily life and I do it now every day. When she originally suggested it I told her “sometimes it’s difficult to find a quiet place” she answered me by saying “You just found your way to Australia and back to speak at a conference and I think you can find a quiet place too”. She was right.
Silence is golden; it’s free and comes with great rewards.