Imagine losing your phone for 10 days. Now imagine losing your phone and losing the ability to speak or make any noise for that duration. Lupita Nyong’o did it, and, honestly, she makes it sound delightful.
“Right after Black Panther came out, the day after the Oscars, I went on a 10-day silent retreat,” the actress recently told Marie Claire, adding that actually she viewed the experience as a present to herself — rather than a punishment. “It was a gift,” she explained. “I did it for my birthday. And it was the best gift because, the thing is, my job has two main parts. There’s the acting, and there’s the celebrity. And the celebrity involves a lot of giving. After talking so much, and just expend, expending, expending, to sit with myself and just listen. Our lives are so full of distractions; you go from one distraction to another.”
What happens when you take away those distractions? Life gets really, really hard — and then it gets easier. “I was constantly wanting to leave and then daring myself to take one more hour and another hour,” she admitted, before revealing how she got to day 10. “And oh my God, it was crazy and beautiful, because after the 10 days, it wasn’t talking that I missed… The heart of the program is about un-clutching from attachments to pleasure and aversion, the idea that we attach to things that we love and to things we dislike. And our identities are built on assembling these things to basically write the stories of our lives, but learning to un-clutch from that control makes it easier to live, to exist.”
When Nyong’o got to the other side there was one benefit she noticed immediately: “clarity.” She saw this specifically while listening to music — rapper Kendrick Lamar’s Grammy award-winning album Damn. “Usually I listen to music and it’s backdrop,” she said. “But after that retreat, I was able to focus solely on that and for it to fill my existence in that moment… I heard the musicality. I heard instruments I’d never heard before. It was like clarity. And I was just, like, wow. I imagine that people sometimes get that from drugs. But it was really nice to get that just from spending time with myself.”
As for whether or not the rest of us would achieve the same zen state, there is science that suggests we would. Silence has not only been found to relieve stress and tension, improve blood pressure, and boost blood circulation in the brain, per a 2006 study in the journal Heart, it allows our body to regenerate brain cells, according to a 2013 study in the journal Brain.
The benefits of a silent retreat — or of simply taking some alone time to be mindful or meditate — are “that we can slow down, be present, connect with ourselves and possibly something greater than ourselves,” Kelley Kitley, LCSW, a Chicago psychotherapist, tells Thrive. “It can reduce anxiety and increase awareness which can bring clarity and a sense of calm,” she says.
You don’t have to stay silent for 10 days or go on a fancy getaway to reap the benefits — even small pockets of silence and solitude can help. “We live in an all consuming world,” says Kitley, “and taking a time out, even for a short amount of time, can help us feel recharged.”
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