What is the longest time you were silent and not speaking with anyone? For some of us, silence can be awkward, especially when you are in a room with other people. We feel the need to fill the quiet with words. What would happen if we allowed ourselves to go without talking, to embrace the silence? It is difficult to stop communicating, but silence is sometimes necessary to understand ourselves and others. I chose to refrain from talking as part of a yoga retreat, and I learned valuable truths about myself.
I have been practicing yoga on and off for years. My practice has included Hot and Yin Yoga, Vinyasa, even a form of dance movement known as Buti Yoga. When I lived in New York City, I had always wanted to visit Kripalu, a yoga center in Massachusetts. I moved to Georgia and had forgotten about this desire until I found myself back up North for a couple of weeks and within an hour by bus to Kripalu. I finally had the opportunity, and I booked a one-week stay for their R&R package. Kripalu Retreat and Renewal, time to relax and reconnect. It meant daily yoga and movement classes, organic meals, and meeting new people. I was ready.
When I got to Kripalu, towering trees lined the long driveway. My excitement grew as I rounded the bend and the mountains of the Berkshires came into view. I checked the week’s schedule of yoga options, workshops, group hikes, guided kayaking, and paddle boarding on the lake. Rest and relaxation, here I come, I thought. A lengthy conversation with the people sitting closest to me followed my first yoga class. On my way to dinner that night, I passed a room with a sign on it, “Quiet Room, Eat in Silence”. I couldn’t remember the last time I had eaten in silence. Home for me was a family of five and a job as a youth director of teenagers. In fact, I was just coming off of a six-day trip to New York City with my students, so my meal times were filled with lots of talking. This room of silence intrigued me, but I sat at dinner and talked for the next hour with a college student from California and a mother of three.
The next morning when I entered the dining hall, the only noise was the clanking of dishes. Breakfast was a silent meal, to be taken without saying a word. I put my food selections on my plate, sat down at a table nodding to my neighbor, who looked up from his book. I always carry my journal with me so I devoted the next 30 minutes to writing in it and eating, not uttering a sound. It was refreshing.
I’m no stranger to silence. I’ve spent time with my students at Taize. It is a monastic community in France, where during the three times a day of worship services there are long moments of silence. I also built quiet time into the youth retreats I planned for my students and my at home yoga practices end with meditation. So, truthfully, 30 minutes of silence weren’t that difficult. After breakfast, I took a walk outside and found a bench between two trees, the perfect resting place and what would become one of my favorite journaling spots for the week. Under the shade of these trees, I thought about how good it felt to sit quietly with my thoughts. I was intrigued to continue it and challenged myself to spend the rest of my time at Kripalu in silence.
Later, when I walked into the “Quiet Room” for lunch, three hours into my week of silence, I was ready for this new challenge. By the third morning, I began to feel invisible. It felt like I was taking part, but not really there. I worried people would think I was antisocial. I wanted to talk to someone about my journey, but I stopped myself. So, what I couldn’t speak out loud, I wrote about in my journal. I relaxed and allowed myself to be fully present, paying attention to my surroundings with all my other senses. I found my voice on the page. I sat quietly writing in the sunroom at Kripalu, on “my” bench by the trees, and other outdoor spaces they had created for these moments of quiet and reflection.
When my week of silence was over, I tried to speak, but no sound came out. I had physically lost my voice. In that moment, I realized I had not let my voice be heard long before my arrival to Kripalu. So busy being what everyone else wanted me to be, I had forgotten myself. I was so used to hiding behind the words guilt, pain, fear, loss, criticism, resentment, I carried them like an enormous pack on my back. I had dragged that heavy pack around for too long. It was time to let it go.
Silence had been a huge part of my R&R that week. In the quiet, I found my voice, one that is filled with passion, thoughtfulness and strength. I learned to speak without fear of judgment. I still hold on to the voice I discovered at Kripalu and these new words of self-compassion I carry with me: radiation, transformation, love, happiness and harmony.
I recommend taking a retreat to get away from the noises of everyday life and to practice being quiet. Choosing to not speak forces us to embrace the silence. It may be uncomfortable to sit in this quiet, but there is much to be discovered in solitude. Whether you spend a week or several hours in silence, you will be transformed.
Have you ever tried not speaking? How did it go for you? Please share your experience in the comments. Or, send me your story and I will publish it.