They say what's buried in the winter is found again in spring
Humans really cannot do two things at once. The majority of times that I try to, like talking to someone while sending a quick text or typing on my laptop and trying to listen (or my pet hate: someone scrolling on their phone while we’re talking) – I invariably miss something, or most likely – everything.
Earlier this year I had two choices: go to Sri Lanka or experience intense presence in silence. My curiosity won and I went on a 7-day silent meditation retreat with Spanda School in coastal West Australian bushland.
There is such richness to be lived offline. I found it incredibly humbling and healing to not speak for seven days, and I experienced a lightness of being I cannot explain.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. – Naomi Shihab Nye
However, being completely in silence did have its challenges. The list of what I couldn’t do was long (no talking, no reading, no phone, no music, no eye contact, no internet – to name a few). Only writing was allowed. And write I did.
My intention for going off the grid was to ‘unravel’. I filled up an entire Moleskin notebook with words from my stream of consciousness. In it is one attempt at poetry, lists, personal explorations, some things I probably don’t want to reread, and letters to the great loves of my life (I knew there would be an ex-boyfriend day!).
Every next level of life will demand a different you. – Leonardo DiCaprio
A lot of people have since asked me if I was bored or challenged or scared. Yes, yes, and yes. I have been doing Vedic meditation for two years, and yet I was still quietly worried if I would ever feel my legs again after four to six hours of meditating per day on the retreat. I had willingly signed up for no connection, no communication, no screens, no books, and essentially – living in flight mode. I quickly realised there was no way to Command T my way out of this.
If you want an easy life, do hard things right now. If you want a hard life, do easy things right now. – Matthew Hussey
I went because I had never truly experienced silence and being completely off the grid – except for that one time I did a digital dopamine detox in Byron Bay.
All of us can relate to being over stimulated, over-connected, and frankly – over it – from time to time. Although the list of no’s was long; I chose to focus on the list of yes’ – which includes lot of time for self-inquiry, nature, meditation, and solitude. Less distractions and more space to soften into myself.
A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions. – Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
On the first few days, I was hit with extreme tiredness. My mind was heavy, I was having visceral dreams, and there was the ever-present feeling that my thoughts were on fire. Our beautiful meditation teacher Ava said this was completely normal. This was amplified by the fact we started the retreat on a full moon and I admit I am fairly susceptible to a cosmic clusterfuck.
Each day looked something like this: rise before the sun, meditation, breakfast, discourse, hatha yoga, meditation, lunch, discourse, yin yoga, meditation, dinner, discourse, meditation, sleep. Eating in silence with reverence was unexpectedly my favourite part of the week-long retreat, with Ava’s mum Arooza preparing the most delicious Indian Iranian vegetarian food imaginable.
Courage is a love affair with the unknown. – Eckhart Tolle
In truth, not talking was the easiest part. Along with no phone and laptop, no clocks, and no caffeine (a personal decision). I could have kept that up for the next month.
I experienced moderate difficulty with no reading (I would have read two books per day otherwise!), no meat (I missed fish), and no hand gestures (my first language). I realised so much of my mind is taken up with repetitive thinking, planning (or as I call it – future tripping), and replaying entire relationships.
However, I missed two things the most: music and touch. There was always a constant soundtrack playing along with my thoughts and an inexplicable feeling of saudade, as the Portuguese perfectly put it, “the presence of absence.”
Remind those who tell you otherwise that Love comes to you on its own accord, and the yearnings for it cannot be learned in any school. – Rumi
So, what did I do if I couldn’t communicate in any way? A lot, actually. My days were filled with meditating, journaling, walking, contemplating, resting, reflecting, observing, releasing, napping, allowing, processing, exploring, feeling, being, trusting, breathing, and lots of cups of tea. The smallest things made my day – like observing a kangaroo in the wild, walking to meditation as the sun emerged from the trees, and eating a bowl of hot porridge on a cold morning.
We weren’t told when we were breaking silence until our final evening meditation. My heart immediately started racing and I had honestly forgotten how to speak. When it was my turn to share, I was overcome with trying to find any words after seven days of not needing them. When I did finally manage to speak, it took a few attempts and I was surprised by the resonance in my voice – it had quietened and deepened, like honey. Unsurprisingly, once we got going – you could not stop us talking and raving about the food and the minutiae of life. I was reminded how good it feels to laugh out loud.
The experience of a week of silence left me with a profound sense of stillness and spaciousness. Two words I previously did not relate to. This led to a deep comfort and intimacy with myself and a richer inner life that I wish everyone could experience. Self-awareness as a superpower.
As I drove home from the retreat with a newfound clarity and no music soundtrack (a road trip first!), these words came to me and I had to pull over to write them down:
Just because you don’t have it now, doesn’t mean you never will. Trust you hunger.
Emptiness can be a full place.
There is greatness in patience.
You will be okay, no matter what, because you will always have you.
You are unbreakable.
Silence roars and stillness dances. – Adyashanti
Listen to my playlist Better The Second Time Around on Spotify – a reminder that you did not waste your love.