Silence. My seven day journey.
By Rachel Grossman
“Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.” ― Khalil Gibran
For most of us, the opportunity to experience true silence in our daily lives can be all but impossible. In our digitalized modern world, we are surrounded by constant noise, bombarded by a deluge of information that is competing for our attention.
In addition to the outside forces that often rob us of inner peace, our internal voices always seem eager to provide a constant stream of thoughts. Anxiety, self-doubt, guilt, fear, and shame are just some of the many places our minds will take us, if not held in check.
si·lence | \ ˈsī-lən(t)s noun: the complete absence of any sound or noise; stillness.
Just before we ushered in the new year of 2020, I could be found cozied up at a homey retreat center in the Berkshires, immersed in 7 days of silence. Surrounded by the cocoon of nature, wise meditation teachers, and a community practicing alongside me, the stresses and complexities of day to day life slowly began to take a backseat in my consciousness. With no outside noise or distractions, this intentional, communal period of silence provides a unique opportunity to slow down and explore life’s deepest truths.
“Sometimes the sound of silence is the most deafening sound of all.” ― K.L. Toth.
Most people’s reaction to hearing about my retreat: “Wow. I could never do that. It sounds torturous. I’d go crazy.”
To be honest, it always takes a few days to settle into the silence. Those first few days on retreat can feel overwhelming, scary, and lonesome. Phones and laptops are put away for the week, which is surprisingly liberating, but also difficult initially. Even the familiar, therapeutic comforts of my daily routine, like reading, drawing, and journal writing are set aside.
Instead, days are spent alternating between sitting and walking meditation practice, which helps slow down the mind, calm the nervous system, and open the heart. The silence continues during mealtimes, in a sunlit dining room overlooking the glistening frozen lake.
As the week progresses, and the initial feelings of displacement and restlessness begin to dissipate, a sense of deep calm begins to settle over me, like a comforting blanket. My senses begin to feel more alive, colors seem brighter and more vibrant, smells more delicious and fragrant. I delight in the gentle wind caressing my cheeks as I walk through snowy woods, marvel at chickens feasting on our composted leftovers, and bask in the magic of glittering stars against the deep, dark wintry sky. This retreat has become a yearly ritual for me, a time to turn inward, reflect, and fully embrace all parts of myself. It feels like a rare and precious gift.
“When I am silent, I have thunder hidden inside.” ― Rumi
Silence amidst the noise
My daily life here in NYC is a stark contrast to my retreat experience. Long lines at the grocery store, impatient horns blaring from fellow New Yorkers at busy intersections, the joys and struggles of motherhood, personal relationships, and the richness of my work as a therapist all provide me with ample opportunities to become overtaken by the distractions and discord that surround us.
Though it’s impossible to recreate the level of silence I experience on retreat in my daily life, the impact that my body, mind, and spirit undergo while in a state of complete silence has a lasting and profound effect on my ability to find quiet and peace in the midst of the noise.
Even if a silent meditation retreat isn’t your cup of tea (I totally get that!), it can be deeply rewarding to find small moments of quiet within your daily routine. Try taking little pause breaks throughout the day, paying attention to your breath, your body sensations, your thoughts and feelings. See if you can notice whatever is arising with an attitude of curiosity and self-compassion. Even the simple gesture of a placing a gentle hand on your heart can be a way to connect to the love and expansiveness within you.