Several years ago, I embarked on a professional transition which I fondly called “my life experiment.” I retired from a long corporate career and left behind not only work I knew, for over 24 years, but a work family, friends and lifestyle. The decision to take the early retirement was one which I had been considering for quite a while. I knew that this was a major turning point in my life and I recall wanting to do things differently. Sensing the magnitude of the life change, a close friend invited me on a silent retreat.
My first thought was, “how bizarre, a silent retreat?” Why would I want to pay money and invest one week of my life into something called a silent retreat? I didn’t have the answers but the one thing I did know was that I wanted to create a definite line between what was and what was becoming. This idea seemed so off the wall that it was the perfect way to create that distinction.
Five days after retiring, with thoughts of “what have I just done?” my plane landed in magnificent Jackson Hole, Wyoming in the middle of winter. The setting was stunning with snow capped mountains, blue skies and lots of sunshine. Once at the rustic retreat home, I met the 13 others with whom I would be sharing this space in silence. The rules of the retreat were simple, we could only speak while seated in our sacred group meeting space for a few hours each day. The topics during those hours were whatever surfaced at that time. Trust was a theme during this experience.
For the week we lived, cooked and relaxed together, in silence. It was beautiful. There was no pressure to create conversation. No stress, no wonder and most of all, no questions to ask. What was present was a sense of peace and connection at a very deep soul level.
Interestingly it was not until the final night, during our farewell dinner, that we could break the silence outside of our sacred room. At that time, we learned where each of us was from and what we did professionally. Surprisingly, this was anti-climactic at best. We had become so close at the soul level that all of the other “stuff” was not even remotely important. It was very interesting to notice the stark difference between this traditional communication compared with the depth of our soul-level connection.
What was important that was that for each of us healing began in a way that we did not expect. Some of us didn’t know why we were there but we soon found out. During the stay I became ill with a 24-hour fever. Our facilitator advised me that I was releasing all of the toxins of my former corporate way of life. I firmly believe this and once I passed through that phase what initially seemed to be bizarre took on an entirely different meaning for me; one of purification and wholeness; welcoming a new beginning.
It was a powerful week in the dramatic Teton Mountains of Jackson Hole, Wyoming experiencing silence and introspection. The clarity, peace and completeness received were far more than I ever envisioned when I signed up.
Fast forward a few years and I am having a similar silent retreat. This time not because I signed up for one, but because I lost my voice. Not being able to speak has made it incredibly easy to be silent. For the entire weekend that also made it easier to slow down and embrace the silence. During this experience, I found myself marveling at how phenomenal three days of relaxing, reflecting and taking care of little projects, that I have put off for many months and years, was. I welcomed this opportunity to practice self-care and enjoyed the time at home.
The power of silence can be found right at home or at a structured retreat. I have found both extremely beneficial and encourage you to practice silence as often as possible. Embrace the peace, release the need to speak and simply be. Name it as a daylong silent retreat, an intermittent offering of silence or join a retreat. However, you choose to embrace silence I am confident you will enjoy the peaceful results.