Why You Might Consider a Silent Retreat
I’m not in the business of trying to convince you to go on a silent meditation retreat, let alone to meditate in general – that is up to you. But if you’re feeling a pull or a sense of curiosity about why one might do a silent retreat, do read on.
I have “only” done four week-long silent retreats, and a handful of stand-alone day retreats. Some go on month long retreats, but most of us don’t intentionally seek out, let alone pay for this experience. Honestly, without fail, every time I do a silent retreat, one of the countless thoughts that arise is one where I ask myself at some point;
WHY ARE YOU PAYING FOR THIS?? ARE YOU MAD??
But also, without fail, these weeks end up being so meaningful, none like the other. While it is a deeply personal experience, there are three general benefits that are pretty much guaranteed for all who attend a silent retreat.
1. Digital detox – removing all distractions
During retreats, all devices are put away and usually no journaling, reading or creative pursuits are allowed either. No, this is not to torture you. Removing all distractions is not only restful to the brain, but allows you to see what’s going on underneath all that. You can direct your attention to your inner world of thoughts, emotions, and body sensations. This includes if boredom or annoyance arises because you really want to finish the season of your favorite show.
2. Learning – getting to know your inner experience
The juice is in what happens when we slow down, in silence, to meet ourselves and our experience as it is in each moment. What is it like to be me? And can I cultivate attitudes to that experience that trickles down into how I interface with everyone else in my life?
What comes up when we meditate and how we react or respond is a microcosm for what happens in our day-to-day life. The patterns, the push and the pull. A retreat is in a sense a bootcamp or a laboratory where we get to examine this even closer. We also get to cultivate a kinder and more skillful way of relating to all that it means to be human, all that goes on in our experience.
3. Resilience – accessing your inner resourcing
We practice not pushing away any discomfort that arises (physical pain, deep emotion, or a troubling thought). Instead, we learn how to kindly and curiously observe our experience. By doing so, we grow our capacity to handle life overall, including the hard stuff. We can cultivate a different attitude and way to approach life’s ups and downs. As we do in our regular mediation practice outside of the retreat, we further develop the foundational attitudes of mindfulness; patience, non-judging, beginners mind, trust, non-striving, acceptance, and letting go. This allows us to not feel like we’re just at the mercy of external circumstances and inner storms. If you’re a meditator reading this, you know what this experience of increased resilience and capacity feels like. If you’re not, you are most welcome to explore this with a teacher if you want to strengthen your inner resources and even get a taste of equanimity.
4. The Big Bonus – your biology may thank you
Many studies show the possible positive impacts meditation has on your body and brain, in areas from immunity, inflammation, stress, and aging. Some aches from long periods of sitting and meditating aside, I typically feel really good in my body after a retreat. To read more about the scientifically supported benefits on health and other areas of your life, check out this blogpost.
So why do I pay to do these retreats? Because it’s a gift to myself, to cultivate skills and attitudes that make this life a little easier to navigate.
And, as a teacher, my own meditation practice, including retreat experience, is a central piece of my teaching to my students.
You, dear reader, don’t have to do a retreat unless you feel called to do so. You can still massively benefit from “just” a regular mediation practice where the work begins, a retreat is just extra. It is advised to have an existing practice if going on retreat, just like you wouldn’t run a marathon without having an existing running routine. If you decide to do a retreat, make sure it is with a reputable and experienced teacher who is trauma sensitive and can guide you through whatever difficulties may arise.
And if you just want to explore mindfulness through a meditation class or a mindfulness walk in nature, then I would love to see you in class soon – here in Lisbon or online.