Last week I went up to Kripalu for a conference on yoga, meditation and addiction recovery.
One of the teachers of the conference was Noah Levine, author of a few books focusing on Buddhist teachings, including Against the Stream and Dharma Punx (I actually wrote a short post about him, punk rock and Buddhism back in 2008 when I first started blogging, which is mildly hilarious and awesome).
When I walked into the room in the morning to hear Noah speak, I wasn’t expecting the itinerary for the day to be what it was. I knew that Noah focuses a lot on mindfulness meditation, and I knew he led silent retreats, but what I didn’t know is that I was about to embark on an entire day of total silence.
I understand that to people who go on long silent retreats, eight hours probably sounds like a piece of cake. I’m sure there are people reading this thinking, “Try 10 days! Or six weeks!”
Trust me when I say that any amount of silence can flip some things around and bring some wild realizations.
The first thing I thought was funny was that I was there with my friend Gabby, who I’m rarely ever silent with. I knew it would be interesting in itself just to not talk to her all day long—but that wasn’t the scariest part.
What?! My heart started beating faster.
I realized how addicted to my phone I am before the official silent period even started. As I sat there waiting for our meditation to begin, all I could think about is whether or not I should quickly post a Facebook status saying “About to embark on eight straight hours of silence!” (I did manage to sneak a tweet in).
I started wondering what I would do without being able to Instagram photos of inspiring things (or even just my lunch) and what would I do if I heard Noah say an inspirational quote and I couldn’t tweet it?
As soon as I realized the sheer amount of anxiety I was feeling at the thought of not being able to be digitally connected for a whole day, I actually had to laugh at the irony. Here I was at an addiction recovery conference, realizing I was totally addicted to my iPhone.
After I somehow reluctantly surrendered to the fact that I’d be phone-less all day, it actually began to feel surprisingly freeing. I realized that not only am I attached to the social media stuff, but the fact that I have my phone on me at all times means I’m available and extremely open to other people’s energy bombarding me at any given moment (via text, email, etc).
Things pop up as notifications all day long and I allow myself to be distracted by it. I usually feel the need to respond to people fairly quickly.
I realized that by giving myself permission to not focus on anybody else’s energy all day, and actually taking the time to feel my own feelings and focus on me, a lot of stuff came up.
Stuff I didn’t even realize was there—stuff I really needed to realize was there.
How can I be present with what’s going on in my actual reality, let alone what I’m really feeling when I’m allowing my energy to be digitally penetrated by other people all the time, without boundaries?
For instance, for part of the day we did a walking meditation. We were instructed to think of a person in our head who we had a lingering resentment towards. With each step, we had to say (in our mind), while picturing this person: “I forgive you. Please forgive me. I forgive myself.” This went on over and over for 30 minutes of walking.
At first, I didn’t think much of it, but it ended up being super emotionally intense. It made me realize that there were a lot of unresolved feelings that I may have never touched upon or attempted to heal if I didn’t take that silent time without interruptions and without distracting myself.
After the eight hours were up, I felt like I was able to actually navigate incoming messages and notifications on my phone with more intention. I found I could put my phone away for a few hours and then read my emails and texts when I was energetically ready to, instead of just being constantly available for distraction.
It felt more conscious, and less of an energy drain—like I could be more present and peaceful in my life.
I realize that social media and being digitally connected is part of my career and I love a lot of things about that. But I know now that I can be much more conscious about where my energy and attention are focused at any given moment, and notice when I’m allowing myself to be consistently distracted from the present.
I can also set the intention to take longer amounts of time for quiet stillness, meditation and just being.
If I could witness all of that about myself in just one day, imagine what a 10-day silent retreat would be like!? I’m seriously considering doing one.
Have you ever done a silent retreat? What did you learn from it?
I’m so fascinated by this and would love to hear your experience…
Jenny Sansouci is the publisher of HealthyCrush.com, where she writes about nutrition, health, yoga and personal development. She’s a certified health coach and graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, with a certificate in Food Therapy from the Natural Gourmet Institute. She works as a Health Coach for Dr. Frank Lipman at the Eleven Eleven Wellness Center in New York City, and she aims to show others that living a healthy life can be fun, pleasurable and delicious.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise