By Sandra Palmer
I am a talker, a chatterbox even. So, I received some surprised responses (shocked, disbelieving and even amused!) when I informed people that I was attending a seven-day silent retreat.
Some friends were plainly envious and thought it sounded divine. Many were curious:
Why would you do this?
What is the purpose of being silent?
Others wanted to know how hard it would be for me. I did not have answers to these questions. I was too busy asking myself those same questions!
To be honest, I had not been naturally drawn towards attending a silent retreat. I was attending it as part of my iRest® certification process and I did not know what the purpose of attending it was other than to “deepen my practice” – whatever that meant.
Before leaving I felt both nervous and filled with curious anticipation. Would I like it? Could I do it? What would I experience? I had so many questions.
When we gathered together that night, (there were 79 of us, in Sydney, lead by iRest trainers Dr Richard Miller and Fuyuko Toyota) the purpose of silence became clearer.
It was explained to us that silence was more than the absence of speaking. The purpose of silence was to support us to find the inner stillness within us, the silence that is always there but often gets pushed to the background in our busy lives. An outcome of doing so would be to notice where attention was going (being hooked) and unhooking from attention itself. We would focus on Being. Simply Being. And Being in Awareness (and as Awareness) and resting in our True Nature, our essence.
As Richard Miller likes to point out, “what you are looking for is here right now”, we just don’t have time or space to notice. The retreat was an opportunity to have that.
That first night, I walked back to my single room. There was simply silence everywhere – what I would describe as a “pregnant silence” empty, but also so full. No one talking to each other. No one talking on phones.
We were kept busy with practices designed to support us to remain with that sense of Being. The day started with an early morning hour-long practice of chanting, pranayama and meditation. This was followed by 3 hours of meditation, Body-sensing (gentle movement coming from a place of Being), and iRest Yoga Nidra (bliss layered upon deliciousness, layered upon joy!). Then an afternoon of lunch and contemplation, and afternoon sessions that included Being with other people in dyad work, Being with trees and nature and Being with the space between trees. After dinner, we had review sessions and opportunities to ask questions (yes, by speaking).
And…I loved it! My first observation was how fast I was moving – showering, cleaning my teeth, walking to and from places. I was moving like there was something else I needed to be doing or somewhere else I needed to be. But I didn’t. Eventually, I could feel my body-mind take a deep breath, sigh and start to slow.
Just Being. No reading of books, no social media. Just Being. Spacious. Open. Timeless. Connected. Whole. Perfect. Just as I was in that moment of Being.
As my body-mind slowed, I went inwards to my inner landscape and I noticed my thoughts. So many of them. Almost constantly. I never even noticed how many thoughts I have when I am busy and Doing.
I began to slow right down and reside in my inner stillness and silence. The stillness remained in the foreground, and every time my attention got caught elsewhere I felt those subtle contractions and brought myself back to Being.
The purpose of a silent retreat had become clear and it made so much sense: Being in Awareness. Jumping into the void. Trusting in the unknown. Love. Bliss. Stillness (even in movement), peace, ease, calm- all qualities of our True Nature.
I did experience some moments of agitation. On day two, I just wanted to DO! I walked myself around the streets of northern Sydney in my walking shoes. Fast. And then I slowed again. I let go of expectations and waiting. Of wanting any particular experience.
The strangest part of a silent retreat was sitting with a group of people eating and not talking. It felt like social conventions were thrown out the window. Just mindfully eating. I felt that all social pressure was taken off me. I didn’t have to think about where I would sit, whether I was making friends, or who I wanted to talk to. I felt immediate relief at not having to “perform”, show myself at my best or make people like me. All I had to do was sit. And eat. And Be.
And then the silence ended. We were given a choice to remain in silence wearing special cards in our lanyards with “In Loving Silence” indicating we would not be talking. I chose to remain in the silence as I simply was not ready to talk, to lose that delicious feeling.
When I emerged, the world felt loud and busy, and I immediately lost myself in the external world.
And then I remembered and brought Being to the foreground again. Since then, and since returning to normal life, this has been the constant process – one of forgetting and remembering, and forgetting and remembering again.
And that’s OK. I feel forever grateful to remember each time I am drawn back.
I am now saving for another, longer silent retreat as, surprisingly, seven days did not feel long enough for me! I am curious about the experiences I will have when I can stay inside for longer, without interruptions or attention being caught anywhere. Just Being.
About Sandra Palmer:
Sandra Palmer is a yoga teacher and Registered Psychologist. She was drawn to yoga by the calmness and clarity it provided her and is curious about the interface of yoga and psychology to support wellbeing. She is on a lifelong journey to lead a slower, less stressed, more embodied and mindful life fuelled by her practices. She focuses on teaching slow yoga practices which support healing and awareness of self.
Sandra has completed 500-hour yoga training with the Contemporary Centre for Yoga Studies, Embodied Flow ™ yin training, TCTSY Trauma Sensitive Yoga training, Somatic Stress Release (™) Foundational training and Level 1 and 2 iRest® yoga nidra training and is enrolled in the iRest certification process.
As a psychologist, Sandra works in private practice primarily working with those recovering from trauma, as well as supporting people living stressful lives to move towards wellbeing. She also works in the suicide prevention and post-vention fields.
Find out more at the Integrative Therapy website.