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The power of retreating

Christmas day in silence

“That’s sounds lovely” is the first response. Followed by a dropping of the jaw and widening of the eyes, sometimes accompanied by a grimace “Why?” or, somewhat ironically, stunned silence when I add that I will not be engaging in conversations about turkey or presents, or the unwanted impact of sprouts this Christmas. I will be spending the festive period on a retreat including the big day itself, the 25th, in silence.

You too may have raised your eyebrows at that? Christmas on a countryside retreat, yep, sounds good, avoid the (insert own word here) check, but spending Christmas day in silence, that’s just odd.

The response became so predictable and my attempt at explanation received with skepticism so I decided to write this 2 part blog. In part for my new friends, a little bit for me, but mainly for you, dear PIE oneers, who spend every day sharing your energy with others. What I am going to do this Christmas feeds my soul, soothes my mind and reconnects me with what’s important.

Yes, yes, I hear you cry. I’ve heard all about the benefits of mindfulness and a little about retreats but the silence, what’s that all about?  Who spends the “happiest time of the year” in a state of stum?  Me. I do. Let me explain why.

Ms Google tells us; silence can lead to increased creativity and reflection, a decrease in stress and a lowering of blood pressure, physical as well as psychological benefits, [1] good stuff.  Huffington Post reports [2] on a study which found 2 hours of silence a day can promote the growth of new cells in the area of the brain (the hippocampus for you budding neuroscientists and TIC trained folk) which may help people experiencing depression and Alzheimer’s. Fabulous.

I don’t know if my blood pressure decreased or brain cells multiplied. I do know however that a previous 3 day silent retreat for my birthday (poor hen, where’s the men in white coats?) was one of my most unique experiences.

The first time I experienced silence in the company of others was literally bizarre. It was only for a few hours before and during breakfast, but I felt self-conscious, uncomfortable and had a fit of inappropriate giggles. The second occasion I was somewhat more at ease and by the time I went on my first silent retreat I was excited about the prospect of simply being.

Ok, ill fess wasn’t complete silence.  It was a Buddhist retreat where we listened to teachings on the impermanence of life, that’s death and dying to you mere mortals.  That all we have is the present moment and there is absolutely nothing we can do to stop the constant change and inevitability that is our life. (Ok , I hear you exclaim, if I haven’t lost you already, doesn’t sound like fun to me.) Indeed. Fun is not how I would describe it, but  deeply moving and profound.

Today I leave for a 5-day retreat with the intention of building a “more mindful, compassionate and environmentally-sustainable world.” To “become aware of how we are all part of nature, not separate from it.” I will meet 31 people I have never met before, spend time meditating and attempting downward dog. I will share a room and contribute to the running of the community. I will reflect, listen and sleep deeply. I will spend Christmas day without saying a word.

Have a fabulous festive season. However you choose to spend it x