My Experience of a Silent Retreat
Adam’s one day meditation retreats are very popular and get booked up pretty quickly, therefore I usually book in advance and in doing so, ‘accidentally’ booked myself on a ‘silent’ retreat in November 2016 in the Malvern Hills. I didn’t feel ready for a silent retreat, but attended nevertheless. Now, having experienced both retreats; ‘normal’ (where you can talk) and the ‘silent’ one (twice, a year apart from the other), I am now able to reflect on both.
What we take away from meditation retreats is a personal process, how we incorporate the practice into our lives, this can be determined by our motivation, discipline, time, environment and intention.
I would like to focus on my personal process of the silent retreats and how these could help you.
What is holding us back?
There was something quite anxiety provoking about attending a silent retreat for the whole day. I had previously only experienced a ‘taster’ when during a ‘normal’ retreat, Adam asked us to practice silence in the lunch break.
This felt quite uneasy – doing something outside the ‘norm’ seemed a bit bizarre. There we were in a shared physical environment with people (mostly strangers), during our lunch break, not allowed to engage with each other, being around each other, eating in silence! I felt uncomfortable and a bit self-conscious. I remember thinking I am not ready for a whole day of this!
I began to question my intention and avoidance around a silent retreat.
Four-months prior to the retreat I had consciously began to re-evaluate an aspect of my life, but wanting to avoid silence, suggested some resistance to take my ‘head out of the sand’ regarding that aspect of my life.
Attending a silent retreat would mean I would be faced with it.
If you are in two minds about attending a silent retreat, I suggest you explore your intention too. If you are nervous, what could that be about?
- Do you think you might be avoiding something?
- Or are you just not sure what to expect?
- Perhaps there are some feelings you do not want to connect to?
- What do you imagine might happen if you silenced the mind?
Despite my nerves I did not cancel the retreat in November 2016 – I believed I was meant to attend and I went with an open mind knowing I will be facing some true feelings and I just will need to go with the flow. I made a decision to honour and value myself, it was part of my ‘self-care’ and felt authentic.
Your reasons for a silent retreat may vary. You may attend out of curiosity, for relaxation, re-charging your batteries, or you might have been dragged by a friend!
Some of my own family and friends joined me at the second silent retreat I did in November 2017, some with no former experience of meditation at all. They all enjoyed the day in their own way. It is unique experience.
Adam is very experienced in meditation, naturally humble with a good sense of humour he creates a welcoming and safe environment.
His style suits all levels; beginners – advanced.
The retreat day has a schedule, it includes four guided meditations, some with and some without visualisations, all lead by Adam, at a really good pace.
It is surprising how quickly the day flies by considering that most people are usually quite apprehensive at the start.
The retreat gives you time, space and permission to ‘just be’.
How often do we give ourselves the opportunity for that?
Life can be busy in which we carry many roles. At the retreat you can just ‘stop’, lose concept of time and just ‘be’. You connect to your inner self. I experienced more of a physical connection to myself, like feeling in my body.
The level of connection to the self is maintained throughout the day due to the continued silence during the breaks.
On the non-silent retreats the breaks can be social, but I found if you want a deeper experience of meditation the social aspect can be distracting as you are shifting your energy from a ‘meditative state’ where you are just ‘being’ to that of one with ‘social expectations’, to connect and talk to others, even if you might not feel like doing so. This draws you away from your internal process and it can take longer to get back into the meditation after the breaks.
Everyone is in the same boat, there is an unspoken (obviously!) agreement between the group.
This allows essentially a bunch of strangers to emerge into a really intimate experience, where words are not needed. You share the same ‘external’ physical space with each other whilst venturing on your own ‘internal’ journey.
The Inner Landscape
Due to the location of the retreat, you can spend time in nature on your breaks and Adam sometimes does a walking meditation too which I find grounding and enriching.
I love being out in nature, so this is a real highlight of the retreat for me. In nature you get to practice being present in the moment by focusing on most/all of your senses; touch, smell, taste, sound and sight which encourages a mind-body connection.
To me, it’s like nature speaks to you metaphorically, and I found personal meanings in my surroundings.
The first time I remember a little path shadowed by trees, creating a bend around a corner until it was no longer in sight. This really resonated with me as I stood in the realisation that what I thought would be, might not; representing uncertainty around my situation at the time.
A year later, when I went on the silent retreat for the second time, I noticed how I ventured out ‘deeper’ and further into the trees, ‘explored’ a lot more, really admiring how the sun rays changed in brightness as the clouds passed it by. To me this represented spontaneity, beauty and faith. At one point when I looked up during a momentary gush of wind, I was showered with autumn leaves. It felt as if I was now just embracing everything, and although my future was even more unknown the second time round due to recent changes, I felt OK and accepting of this.
Getting past the blocks
We all have them!
At times, it took great concentration to get past the blocks. I had to work hard to prevent the distractions, (both thoughts and feelings) from getting in the way of my experience.
The first time I recall irritation and a restlessness during the third meditation, but I knew I just had to get past this in order to experience the underlying peace that resides in all of us.
It felt a bit like standing up to a sabotaging part of myself.
Repeatedly bringing my attention to my natural breath helped enormously to push through the barriers.
Adam describes the breath as an anchor to the present moment, on the retreat I well and truly experienced how anchoring this was.
Admittedly it was the hardest part of the day for me, but the most shifting too.
Everybody’s experience is different. How you feel after will vary person to person. The first time I felt quite ‘raw’ for a few days having allowed myself to face the reality of a situation that required change. During the year in between my retreats I made some life changing decisions. I also made subtle changes; I now find that I crave silence and at times prefer not to have the radio or any background noise on.
After the second time I felt peace and calm and was left with the desire to be in solitude more often.
If you are thinking about a silent retreat, go into it with an open mind, and just allow yourself to go with the flow. It can also be really helpful to write notes after to capture your experience.
Everyone will have a unique experience.