We live in a world surrounded by so much noise and so many distractions. Can you imagine what it would be like to spend a day in silence? Does that thought energize you or frighten you? When was the last time you shut everything off and enjoyed the experience of silence?
The experience of silence on a retreat
Right after Christmas this past year, my brother decided to gift my sister and I a retreat. Now this retreat was nothing at all like the retreat I described in my post about retreats and friendship.
In fact, it was almost the exact opposite. The intent of this retreat was solitude, quiet, rest and reflection.
My brother went to great lengths to give us instructions about how to make the most of the retreat. We started it off with a relaxing evening at my parents’ house where they provided dinner. After dinner, we had the option to take a bath or read.
We were instructed to keep our communication to a minimum. It just so happened that the only time my sister and I were both able to go on this silent retreat was on the same dates, so we had to carefully navigate our time, so we didn’t spend it chatting like we usually do.
Lights out was at 9 pm so that we would get plenty of rest. My brother prepared breakfast for us in the morning, and then we packed up and headed to an abbey where we would spend the next 24 hours in (mostly) silence.
After we arrived, we settled into our separate rooms (2 doors down from each other, but we shared a bathroom and lounging area). From there we each did our own thing for the rest of the day.
I opted to stay in my room and read almost all day. It was wonderful to finish 2 books and take a nap in the afternoon. I kept my phone turned off and thoroughly enjoyed the peace and quiet of the experience.
At times it did feel strange, but it made me aware of how much noise I am constantly bombarded with in everyday life. Not checking Facebook, text messages, or emails was a welcome respite.
Even not interacting with other people for a bit was refreshing (I am borderline on the Meyers Briggs introvert/extrovert scale).
The silence was broken when the head of hospitality (a monk) knocked on my door to introduce himself and tell me the plans for dinner. He chatted for a while and then came back later to walk with us to dinner. Normally the monks eat their meals in silence.
However, this particular day they didn’t, so talking was permitted. After dinner, my sister and I talked briefly as we enjoyed our tea and then went back to our separate rooms to resume our silence for the rest of the evening.
I went to bed early, as there were so few distractions, and I was more in tune with my body feeling sleepy. There was no option of doing something productive or wasting time on anything technology related.
My experience of silence
After these couple of days, I came home with a few epiphanies. One was the importance of taking time to slow down and shut off all the noise. I know it isn’t realistic for me to go on silent retreats super often (although I do plan to incorporate them when I am able), but I have considered what smaller ways I can cut down on the noise in my life.
My version of quiet may look like an occasional coffee out with a friend (anything sans kids feels less noisy), technology-free days or evenings and resisting the temptation to fill all silence with noise.
I still like a Netflix binge every now and again, but I am cutting back on them. I’m taking more time to read, listen, and soak in the silence. I’ve found earlier bedtimes to be wonderful as well (for both the kids and me).
Life feels much simpler when it is quiet.
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