I saw a few clients last week but mostly, have been off since before Crimble.
So naturally, I set myself a ridiculous amount to accomplish today, raring to go, hoping to start the new year as I mean to go on.
Lots of deadlines, lots of clients. An extra yoga nidra class to teach each week. Other exciting projects. I love my work and it’s great to be busy.
But, I know it’s not sustainable to work crazy hours. I really loved all the extra downtime over Christmas. Catching up with loved ones.
And even though my Christmases are tame by comparison to many (not a huge family), my inner introvert was very relieved to be alone again, after a gorgeous day with loved ones.
I’m also conscious that Yule / Winter Solstice, the Pagan holiday Christmas took inspiration from, is about recharging, quiet and stillness. This can feel at odds with modern extravagances.
Because I was feeling spoiled with all the time off I was allowing myself (I’ve been my own boss for more than 11 years but, even though much of my work is about encouraging self-care, it’s taken a long time to do so for myself), I decided to experiment with a 24 hour silent retreat.
I warned loved ones I’d be doing this and said to ring the landline twice in case of an emergency as my mobile would be switched off and I’d be ignoring other landline calls. I also had no music, no computer, no telly.
And I told Rainbow MagnifiCat that I’d be communicating silently with her for the next 24 hours.
Apparently, I’m an extraverted introvert and my need for space and company is a tightrope walk sometimes.
Yule / Crimble felt like a perfect time to play with this as I knew that, in this part of the world, most others had too so I wouldn’t be missing out on anything.
I felt like I was jumping into a deep end (I’m not a naturally silent person. I can’t help chattering away to strangers a lot of the time) but I was also reminding myself that this was purely for my benefit. An experiment.
I got a lot of benefits from a semi-silent retreat I had to do as part of my yoga therapy training but where my yoga friends were looking forward to repeating the experience voluntarily, I felt like the pre dawn yoga and meditation sessions and bulk of silence along with a schedule of different types of meditation and yoga…. beneficial but more ‘Woo hooooooo! Survived! Can talk again!’ than, ‘Can’t wait to do that again!’
I prefer deciding on my own schedule. And while I did a predawn yoga practice for Yule, dawn was just before 8am so not too bad. Generally, predawn anything other than sleep does not appeal.
My DIY silent retreat was going to be about tuning into what I needed and wanted.
After the first hour, I was loving it. Before two hours was up, I’d had almost an hour of spontaneous mindfulness meditation, aka Rainbow Appreciation time (she leaped onto my lap for strokes for 25 minutes, jumped down and then back up again. Without the telly or other distractions, she had my full attention and I was mindful of her purrs, her furr, the feel of her claws (gently), the other sounds in the room and my breath.
Since adopting Rainbow, I’ve had lots of unexpected Rainbow Appreciation Time mindfulness but I’d not had such a long stretch before (or since). Obviously (being human), my mind wandered but it was a pleasure to bring my focus back to the MagnifiCat and my breath.
I began to feel smug thinking that normally, practically the only time she goes to bite (nip, but still) is when I’m meditating but this must have been extra special meditation as she had been good as gold and then… nip…
I was also conscious of how loud my thoughts felt, especially in the silence. Time seemed to stretch. After a couple of hours, I felt like it had been 4 hours. Everything seemed to slow down.
Again, being human, I thought ‘Ooooh’ and made copious notes in order to write about it later. Some anxieties crept in, too. There were some people I’d forgotten to tell and an arrangement for a couple of days later hadn’t yet been confirmed. I didn’t want to miss out but told myself I’d only be responding 24 hours later. I resisted the urge to log on.
After 4 hours, I decided to take a book to bed and curl up to read or maybe even get an early night. I did sleep but woke up a few hours later after a pretty nightmarish dream in which we were all part of the primordial ooze. Still, I went back to sleep and woke up refreshed the next morning.
I’d accidentally broken my silence a few times whispering to Rainbow as I often do before remembering, Silence and so sending her these thoughts telepathically. I also ‘sang’ her little songs in my head rather than aloud. I think she preferred it.
Waking up in the morning with her sleeping soundly next to me, I did my morning meditation in bed so as not to disturb her and it felt different to my usual, ‘Right, brush teeth, meditate, yoga, start day…’ As I wasn’t switching my phone on for several hours, there was no rush.
I wanted to go for a walk but decided to postpone it as I knew I’d struggle to remain silent if I bumped into a neighbour or friend (or, after several hours’ silence, a stranger or even pigeon).
Although I’d promised myself that if it got too much at any point, I could quit, I was enjoying it all more than I’d imagined. The fact that I was allowing myself to read whatever I felt like reading and I even wrote a few thank you cards (so, technically, not especially retreaty) made it easier to stick to. I wanted the experience to be a treat not punitive.
I also felt extra appreciative of all my Christmas presents as I found new homes for them, putting them away in silence rather than with music on in the background.
Apart from my own thoughts sounding very loud at points, the clock, fridge and other sounds I usually barely notice felt loud. And Rainbow’s purr was like the motorcar purrs she did as a kitten.
While I rarely put music on for my yoga practice (I went through a phase of doing it to Metallica a few years ago), both days’ felt especially peaceful. I chose to break the silence to do a little chanting at the end.
With just three hours to go, I ate some leftovers. Without the telly being on, I understood what all the research around people eating less when we eat mindfully meant. I stopped only 1/3 in as I just wasn’t hungry. So I popped it away to eat later on (yay microwaves) when I’d appreciate it more rather than just going through the motions.
As the last hour passed, I became impatient to go for a walk and mentally thought about who I’d phone ON said walk. But all in all, it was a luxurious treat.
I’m definitely not the type to crave joining a convent / monastery etc but I realised that I definitely want to bring more silence into my 2016 and beyond.
24 hours, while not the several days of the semi-silent retreat, is still a big chunk of time. I think I’ll aim to do that at least 3 or 4 times a year. But each week or so, I’d like to aim for maybe 6 hours (I’m aware writing this that I completely forgot to do this the weekend just gone!)…
I’m also aware that I have it easy – no kids or other dependents.
But if more silence sounds good to you, what might your own DIY silent retreat look like?
Have you done something similar yourself in the past?
What did you learn?
What would you do differently next time?
Feel free to comment below.