Preparing for a Silent Retreat | Omega

Taking the time for small moments of silence before retreat can cultivate inner strength and wisdom and help you prepare for your retreat.

Whether you are looking to take a break from your overly scheduled life or go deeper into your spiritual practice, a silent retreat or workshop is a great place to get still and renew your body, mind, and spirit. 

"Retreat offers time to step back from the course of daily life and enter into the Unknown, in an environment that provides both structure and support," writes spiritual teacher and silent retreat leader Adyashanti. "Silence is where we meet our greatest solitude, and our greatest resource of sanity and joy."

Yoga and Buddhist teacher Michael Stone says silent retreat is like medicine.

At the opening of one of his own silent retreats he said, "You can look at your loneliness and see how it’s healing or maybe you can look at the frustration of not getting what you want in mild forms and in major forms, or the experience of being separated from what you love. It’s medicine. It’s your life."

But how do you prepare for quiet time when you live in a world full of so much noise?

Health Coach Kerry Bajaj, who has participated in several silent retreats, says there’s almost no way to prepare for one because what you expect and what happens are often two different things. 

“In [some] Vipassana retreats the food is really spare, and I was worried about that, but it ended up not being a big deal. My theory is that's because I couldn't complain about it out loud,” Bajaj said.

Her advice to those preparing for a silent retreat is to go in with an open mind and heart and cultivate a sense of calm before you go.

“Don’t bother being nervous because you’ll probably be challenged in ways you didn’t anticipate,” she said. “You might think not talking will be hard, but then it's sitting cross-legged that ends up being hard. The next time around you think sitting cross-legged will be hard, but something else ends up being a challenge.”

Pema Chödrön addresses how this challenge can actually further your practice in her book, When Things Fall Apart

"Everything that occurs is not only usable and workable but is actually the path itself," she writes. "We can use everything that occurs—whether it's our conflicting emotions and thoughts or our seemingly outer situation—to show us where we are asleep and how we can wake up completely, utterly, without reservations."

Seek Out Silent Moments

Yoga teacher and retreat leader Julian Devoe has also spent time on silent retreats. He believes silence is another form of relationship with yourself and the world around you.

Devoe suggests you prepare for a retreat by listening more. “When you are going about your day in your house, taking a walk, before going to sleep, tune into listening. Start by listening to what is right around you, in your immediate space. Then stretch your ear to the entire room; then listen outside the room; listen as far away as possible. Begin to parse out different sounds. Focus on all the sounds, then just one."

You can also experiment with silence in small doses before the retreat. Try driving in your car without any talk radio or music. Start with just two or three minutes and build up to longer stretches of time. Take a few moments before each meal to be silent and work up to enjoying an entire meal without talking.

Devoe also recommends journaling. “Some retreats allow journals and others don't,” he said. “Either way, it is a worthy practice to help dive into the inquiry.”

Before you go, you can use your journal to get more clear about your intention for retreat, or express your hopes and concerns about the experience. After you return, you can journal about any insights you'd like to remember.

Chinese poet and philosopher Lao Tzu said, “Silence is a great source of strength.” Taking the time for small moments of silence before retreat can help you cultivate inner strength and wisdom and help you prepare for your retreat.

© 2014 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies

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