Let me preface this by saying that I am in love with words. I love literature, I enjoy a good chat or discussion and I am a bit obsessed with language in general–names, etymology and learning new words or phrases I hadn’t come across before.
However, taking part in an introductory silent retreat this past year opened my eyes to the ways in which we overuse language and how it is possible to communicate well, whilst saying very little.
The thought of the silent retreat didn’t particularly worry me. I was a bit nervous about whether I would just blurt something out in the dining room one morning without thinking, but I was quite confident that I would be able to complete the silent period and that I would probably enjoy it.
What surprised me was just how much I enjoyed it.
I can’t really explain why, but I felt so much peace and contentment, moving around this house in the countryside with twenty other strangers, not saying a word. We could smile at each other, obviously, and communicate in other ways, like signalling for someone to pass the butter or grinning a ‘thank you’, but we couldn’t speak.
Even the people who were self-confessed chatterboxes–people who usually had to have noise every minute they were alone–said afterwards that they really enjoyed the silence.
I think it was the relief of not having to make conversation. There was no pressure. We could just be.
I remember getting ready for bed in our dorm on the first night of silence, and I climbed into my bunk and looked up at the dark ceiling with a genuine, big smile on my face. I just felt so relaxed and so content. I knew that other people were there and I realised that I could enjoy their warmth, their company and their presence without feeling obliged to make conversation.
I was almost disappointed when we were allowed to go back to talking a day or so later.
I would love to do a longer silent retreat, to dig a bit deeper and really feel the challenges of it and reap the rewards. It makes for a simpler existence, when you’re in it. I realised how much we say to each other that we could easily do without.
That’s not to say that chatting is a bad thing, of course. Sometimes it’s absolutely necessary! But I would recommend that everybody try a silent retreat at some point. The calmness it brought me, and everybody else on that retreat, was unexpected and very real.