The Traveling Native // Notes for Attending a Silent Retreat
September 2015 was my first year attending a silent retreat. 7 days of silence filled with dharma talks, mindful walking and self-compassion meditations. What led me to explore a silent retreat came down to a number of things, but what I left with, was more than I was ever expecting. It was such a powerful experience that I made the commitment to myself to attend each year for my birthday. There are many benefits to attending a silent retreat. Personally, at the time, I was looking for clarity, space and the ability to remove myself from the familiarity of life. Unexpectedly, it also influenced me professionally and the choices surrounding the business that I looked after. There is something about completely removing yourself into a space so safe that all you have to be concerned with is just showing up and caring for yourself in a nurturing and compassionate way. It's hard to do that in our daily lives. With stresses from our work, general social interactions, traffic and everything else that falls within our daily experiences, it is difficult to create time to just be available for ourselves in the way that we need.
Safety // A basic human need to thrive
There are some basic human elements that we all share - the need to be loved, to be respected and ultimately, to be safe. Attending a silent retreat provides these things without any question. To have our basic human needs met, we are able to shift our focus towards levels of consciousness that we may not have made any time for in our daily lives. When we feel safe, when we feel loved and when we feel respected, we are able to have the foundations of security to explore ways to move into higher consciousness. It is a powerful experience to feel completely safe and to experience the opening of one's heart and soul is something that is truly a by-product of attending a silent retreat.
Of course, attending a silent retreat is not only an experience during the time spent there, but what is joked around is that the second part of the retreat starts when one leaves. The transition from being safe, calm and open towards approaching into the world that continues to move in the ways that you had left it can be difficult. It was for me at least.
Here are some tips for those who are interested in attending a silent retreat and being able to create a smoother transition into part two of your retreat experience back home.
1. Allow for time for yourself to get home // During my first retreat, I took a flight home about a few hours after leaving Spirit Rock. The anxiety, pressure and overall pace of the airport was a huge sensitivity after being in silence and moving slowly and mindfully for a week. I remember closing my eyes for the first time on the airplane and all I could hear were people talking, electronics and videogames that it was overwhelming from a sensory perspective. Allow yourself the time to either drive home or allow a buffer day to be in a hotel, quiet home or bring headphones to neutralize the environmental sounds. Allow time to adjust. I forgot how much we tune out in our daily lives, but during the week of 'tuning in' - mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, it is hard not to recognize how much really goes on around us. So take care of yourself, allow space to move slowly back into the routine of life.
2. Allow space for your friends and family to understand // The biggest thing coming back for me was being extremely sensitive to others. During the retreat, I found myself opening up and being not only grateful, but emotionally resonating to everything on a more personal level. The little things, such as my husband picking me up from the airport, were things I expected before. Now, small actions such as those were a big deal to me. I saw how lucky I was to have someone care enough to come pick me up in traffic and I was just so happy that it was hard for me not to tear up with gratitude. I came home extremely sensitive emotionally, not because I was feeling emotionally unstable, but I was feeling and experiencing whole-heartedly - feeling every emotion in its entirety and overwhelmed with the power of gratitude for the little things. With that being said, it took me a few months for me to adjust back. It's learning to recalibrate the newly discovered pieces of you with the life you left behind prior to the retreat. I just made sure to communicate with my friends and family of where I was and what I needed and that helped with transitioning back into my daily routine.
3. Allow yourself the space from social media, texting and phone calls // Coming home from my second retreat, I found myself having a hard time getting back to the computer and my cell phone. Without access to electronics on the retreat, it becomes very clear how our words and what we say in relationship to one another are powerful in and of itself. We don't need to engage in chatter or add on in conversation to just fill the space. For me, I realized that if I needed to say something, it could be said in a meaningful way, which meant, that I did not need to be on my phone to just chat via text or scroll on any of my social media channels, especially if I had people around me in the present moment. There was a part of me that just did not feel the need to spend my time on my phone or computer. I wanted to spend time with the people right in front of me. For friends, it was a change in how I talked with them - less emojis and more to the point. Again, it comes down to just giving people a heads up of where you are at and they will understand and support you. You will get people reaching out to ask you how everything went and so it is important to continue to provide yourself space to process and continue the second half of the retreat upholding the space you created for yourself while you were there.
4. Allow the space to Journal // Before, during and after ... journaling is a powerful tool to process what is going and what your experience has been like. Journaling has been an avenue for me to capture a moment in time, especially during one of exploration. Whether you go on a silent retreat or not, journaling is something I highly recommend as a daily part of showing up for yourself.
5. Allow the space to continue to show up for yourself // On the retreat, I learned how to truly care and nurture myself in a whole new light. Empowering and liberating are two words that come to mind when I think of when it comes to showing up for oneself. During the second half of the retreat, the time is divided amongst responsibilities, duties and obligations. It is as important during this time to create time for yourself to continue a sense of self-compassion, nurturance and self-care. Whether it be the first thing in the morning of reading, journaling, or making tea, what is important is that you designate time for you to just do you. Schedule it in your calendar. Make yourself the opportunity to show up, whatever that means, and enjoy the second part of your retreat, which most would consider, the hardest part.
Whether it is a silent retreat, traveling or even making time in your home to read, creating time to show up for yourself is one of the most valuable action you can take.
For those interested in learning more about workshops or silent retreats, you can visit Spirit Rock.
Photography // Carolyn Brown
Location // Spirit Rock, CA