It was a few days before Labor Day weekend, when I first heard about a Silent Retreat taking place in our local area. Although I had no idea of what to expect, it got me curious and excited.
“I want to attend a silent retreat this weekend,” I told my husband. Obviously, he knows how much talking I do each day, at work as well as home.
He started laughing and said, “Is there any penalty for talking during this retreat? Please check on that first, else we may go bankrupt.”
Although he was joking, it made me think seriously.
That’s so true! I love to chat with everyone from little kids to elderly people, from grocery store cashier to Starbucks barista and more. Words are my best friends. How could I survive without words? The good news — it was only one day silence retreat. May be, I would be able to practice silence for one day. But what if I go crazy by being silent even for a day?
I was going back and forth with my decision. But then I remembered what I often share with my students. Whenever we have a new seating chart in class, some students accept it without resisting but a few don’t seem to be happy at first.
Then I tell them, “Let me tell you a secret! Are you all ready?” Immediately I get everyone’s attention.
“I believe in each one of you and I know you all are talented. Some of you just love to talk and some hardly speak up in the class. Is that correct?” I could see them nodding their heads.
“Well, both are great qualities for friendship! And don’t you think you all want to be friends in our class?” This works well with my students. So why I could not be that student who does not speak much in the class — at least for a day?
Finally, I got enough courage to accept the challenge. It was the day of silent retreat. I set my alarm, got up early morning and started driving to MA Center in Aubrey, Texas where the retreat was being held. It was just me in the car and nobody else, so I was already getting some practice to be silent. I reached there and looked around. Sun was just coming up and spreading its soft golden light. Birds were chirping as they flew over the nearby pond. If heaven exists somewhere, this could be that place — I thought.
It was good enough for me to get excited and ready for my challenge. We were given some guidelines and provided with the schedule for the day. Slowly, we were led into a short seated meditation. At first, it seemed impossible for me to sit still and concentrate. But soon I thought about my mother holding my hands and giving me a hug. That dissolved all wandering thoughts and without even realizing cleared my mind. I must admit that I felt pretty good after this short meditation.
It was followed by a short walking meditation. We could select either indoor or outdoor meditation. With so much beauty around to explore, which one I am going to opt for? I selected outdoor meditation and started walking in slow motion as directed. It felt real silly and I wondered, why it is even called a meditation and how could I get anything out of it.
Soon, I could feel the swift breeze. I looked up at the clear sky and then saw the trees shaking their branches with joy. I closed my eyes. I had such a great company here. Nature was right there with me at every step of my walking meditation. I was not sure if I enjoyed the nature or walking meditation. But my silence certainly was allowing me to enjoy every moment. After that, we had a light and healthy breakfast break. All this in silence and it seemed as if I am getting used to having an inner dialogue with myself.
After that we had some rotation of seated and walking meditations, followed by lunch. Since I could focus only on food and nothing else, every bite tasted so delicious. My mother used to tell me as a child that talking while you are having your meals is rude manners and unhealthy habits. I never really understood why it would be an unhealthy habit until this silent meditation. I started thinking how much work is being done for this food to get on my plate. Suddenly I was humble and thankful to all those people who put their efforts in it.
Usually when I eat my food and sip my coffee, I am often occupied with thoughts and busy planning on tasks to complete. But this silence seemed to change the entire picture.
After lunch came the best part! It is called Karma yoga which means — fulfilling your selfless duties. There were random tasks assigned to each of the participants that ranged from cleaning indoor areas to watering plants, washing dishes to cleaning the yard etc. No matter which task is assigned, you are expected to focus and serve your best.
What was going to be my assigned task? When I heard about my assignment, I was touched. My task was to write inspiring notes to people going through any kind of sufferings in life. How difficult it must be to anyone who has a loved one with terminal illness or has lost someone. Life brings us so many challenges, sometimes without much advance notice and we are rarely prepared for such things. I had been through such things in my life and it would not be possible to survive without my family and friends who helped me during those difficult moments.
Now it was my task to offer the friendship and love to those in need. I sat out on the porch where I could feel nature. I closed my eyes for a minute and prayed to gather my thoughts. I pulled all colored pens from my bag, took a blank card and the first thing I drew on it was a heart. Then I wrote my first comforting word “LOVE”! Yes, love is the best gift in such moments.
I continued writing my notes and tried to pour my heart and soul into each card after that. Amma, the renowned humanitarian has a mantra — “Love and Serve!” When I was done with my task, it was a great feeling. I felt as if I accomplished something through selfless love and it was giving me abundant joy in return.
After a few more sessions of silent walking and seated meditations, the retreat ended in the evening. Instead of feeling tired I was full of energy. Secretly I wished that retreat should have continued for longer time.
When we slowly came out of silence, we were asked to reflect on our experiences.
To be honest, initially I felt it was a big challenge and impossible to do. I was even skeptical about many things such as walking meditation, but then my final experience became so positive. How did that happen? I kept on thinking — which part was the best part? I loved Karma yoga, me writing notes! I felt as if I am serving selflessly and trying to spread love.
Was it the repeated practice that trained my mind? Was it I just got hang of it and somehow could discover the secrets? Or was it because finally the peace and rest my mind needed the most got accomplished?
Whatever the case may be, I must agree, “Silence is Golden!”