A year ago, I found myself
at a profound turning point in my life. I’d just married, quit my corporate career of 13 years without a backup plan, and my health was spiraling downhill.
When my life is in upheaval and I’m in the middle of deep transformation, I know I need to get quiet. I need to go inward.
So I made the commitment to spend three days in silence at Siddhayatan Spiritual Retreat Center in Windhom, Texas. I’d imagined a silent retreat would be just that—silent. I expected to feel a deep sense of peace, harmony and spaciousness. I’d read Eat, Pray, Love several times and heard my yogi friends talk about their amazingly peaceful retreat experiences. Yet, I felt anything but peaceful.
You see, when we silence the outside, the inside gets louder.
I’ve always enjoyed alone time, and while there was a sense of relaxation from not having access to a radio, TV or cell phone, this was different. Once I silenced the external world, my internal world became noisy. And the voice (you know that negative voice in your head) started talking.
You’re a loser.
You’ll never feel well.
You don’t even know what you want to do with your life.
Right away, I wondered where all of this noise had come from. How had I not heard it before?
I realized that the busyness of my external life had kept me from listening to my inner life. The constant social media engagement, domestic chores, responsibilities and daily errands kept my mind distracted enough to never ask the questions: What’s going on with me right now? Or What would I like to do with my one, precious life?
At first, I began to panic:
What if I lose my mind and go crazy?
I’m all alone here and there is nothing to distract my mind.
I don’t want to deal with this. Why did I come?!
Then, I remembered my training in yoga and I centered myself using deep breathing. I inhaled deeply into my lower belly to a count of four, held my breath for a count of seven, and then exhaled out of my mouth for a count of eight. I did this over and over until my mind began to calm down. I found that the more I allowed the voice in my mind to do its thing, like a hamster on a wheel, the quieter my mind became.
Next, I prayed: Allow me to fully be present and learn what I am meant to learn.
I learned that the noise and this voice in my mind had always been there, I just didn’t take the time to notice. Right then, I made a commitment to myself to make space for silence in my daily life.
This is how I do it:
Each morning and evening (and sometimes throughout the day) I make time to practice the deep breathing exercise, called the 4-7-8 Breath, for five minutes to calm my mind. Find my demo of this technique here.
I create gaps in my calendar to allow for silence and non-activity. I consider this a spiritual practice and it requires saying “no” a lot and setting boundaries with my family and my business.
I’ve started following a “screen-free” day at least once a month where I keep my phone and computer off all day. I use this time to connect with friends and family in person, get out in nature or simply go about my day without a screen in front of my face. What a concept, right?
As often as possible, I sit in meditation. No, I’m not on the floor in full lotus pose with mala beads around my neck chanting mantras (though I love mantras). I’m just in my favorite chair, with Beats headphones covering my ears to drown out external noise. And I sit. Sometimes I breathe or I pray. I don’t do this every day, but it’s my goal.
I have found that by creating more space for silence, my inner life is no longer as loud. I no longer have a lot of noise that I’m desperately trying to run away from by filling my day with endless activities and distractions. It’s the type of freedom I wish for everyone.
Now I want to hear from you, What has silence taught you and how do you bring it into your life?
Author: Angela Watson Robertson
Image: Moyan Brenn/Flickr
Editor: Nicole Cameron; Ashleigh Hitchcock