I just got back from the first retreat of a year-long mindfulness certification I am undertaking with Mindful Schools. The retreat lasted seven days, and the first two and a half days were spent in silence.
In general? I like silence. But two and half days? Let’s just say I went in feeling some trepidation and apprehension about spending that many hours in actual silence. No media, no texting, no Facebook, no email. Just silence. Not to mention I was about to spend time with 80+ strangers … in silence?
Nearly 10 years ago, I was introduced to mindfulness in a therapeutic setting. I didn’t start doing actual mindfulness sits until about three years ago, and trust me when I say that my sits were more off than on. I’d gotten myself up to being able to sit for 20 minutes in preparation for the retreat.
But silence? How do you prepare for that? “Okay, nobody talk to me for 2 days! GO!”
Let me cut to the chase. Here are two takeaways from what I learned about mindful sitting and walking in silence.
- All that “it’s rainbows and unicorns and you’ll be one with the Universe” talk is bullshit. (Note: If you are adverse to foul language, just stop reading here.)
My experience of sitting in silence alternated between “Hulk smash, fuck fuck fuck” and a crazy weird mind trip.
So here’s the deal: mindfulness isn’t about magically eliminating thought. It’s about getting tuned in and aware of thought. So when you tune and notice, you can go “Oh hey, thoughts, wassup?” and then return to your anchor (we will cover what that is in another blog post). All that time I spent mindfully sitting and walking was spent just catching myself thinking.
Between “Hulk smash, fuck fuck fuck” and crazy weird mind trip I came to a deep place of gratitude for my body. I was very surprised by this outcome. I became so aware every part of my body that it was impossible to not be grateful for what it endures from me day in and day out.
- The mind? It’s serious tricksy.
My teachers (Chris McKenna, Megan Cowan and Vinny Ferraro) had given us the heads up that we would basically get into an altered space since we’re giving our nervous systems a true rest. Me? I was, naturally, skeptical. And bbbboyyyyy was I wrong!
I learned that when my mind is given absolute silence and free reign, it goes to serious weird places but in an absolutely laughable way. I was able to get better and better at noticing the caverns and paths my mind went on, and could get choosy if I wanted to follow it or just let it be. Emotions? I was able to, most of the time, acknowledge and let them pass. It was serious tricksy in the best way possible.
Oh and? Come to find out sitting in silence with 80+ individuals? Cake.