While yoga keeps getting more acrobatic, more alcoholic and hot hot hot, there’s a slower, gentler, quieter side people are flocking to in order to get away from, well, all of that, and the rest of life’s stresses, noises and disturbances. They’re flipping the switch and heading off to silent retreats.
Silent retreats are nothing new, but lately they’ve been growing in popularity amongst the modern urban set looking for a break from their regularly scheduled program of a demanding, fast-paced, incessantly social media’d lifestyle. Instead of hopping on a jet to Caribbean paradise, folks are taking the less tropical route to ashrams and monasteries for some good old fashioned peace and quiet.
“I thought the stillness would help me connect with my baby,” an eight month pregnant web developer from NYC, Juliana Berger, told the Associated Press. She had been on silent retreats before, but this time was different. For one, she was pregnant and she had also brought along her boyfriend, Jonathan Mann, a silent retreat newbie. “The meltdown helped a lot,” said Mann, referring to his frustration from not being able to sit for long periods of time culminating in “the most violent emotional reaction” he’s ever had.
The particular retreat Berger and Mann went to took place over five days at the Buddhist-influenced Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts. Each of the 90 participants stay in single room and are there, let us repeat (cause we can) to not talk to each other, but live within their own minds, listening to their own thoughts, whatever they may be. Vegetarian meals are served and activities are scheduled all day from 5:30 in the morning to 9:30 at night like yoga, walking, eating, chanting, listening to lectures and meditation. Often at these types of retreats each person is given a chore or job to do as well, like cooking, cleaning or maintaining the grounds, depending on where and how long you’re staying.
Nope, this is no lounging on the beach with little umbrella drinks. It’s no resort. It’s not even a vacation says Robert Epstein, senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology and professor of psychology at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji. “It’s a very unusual experience, which can certainly be beneficial, but it’s difficult in some respects, because it’s a time when you are alone with your thoughts. And you can hear your thoughts very clearly,” he warns.
Sometimes those thoughts will freak you right out.
Also, these retreats are maybe not the most comfortable of settings or company either. Anne Kadet wrote about her recent stay at Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, N.Y. for the Wall Street Journal:
My fellow guests were a homogenous crew, mostly men in shorts and white crew socks. We sat, read and dined without speaking, often just staring into space.
I couldn’t decide what this reminded me of. Then it came to me: a nursing home.
So why are so many people heading for the hills? One word: Transformation. And Clarity. OK two words. Though he was hit with a bout of rage, Mann reached “some moments of clarity” during his stay. That’s kind of a thing, says It takes at least 24 hours for a person to move past the point of “monkey brain”
“Going on a silent retreat is a journey,” says Berger. “When you take away all of the energy we put into communication, it is redirected to the parts of your life you normally ignore.”
Have you ever been, or thinking about going on a silent retreat?