One week into volunteering at the International Meditation Centre in Menorca and I take a vow of silence. Five whole days with no real verbal communication and no digital distractions.
The Silent Retreat
This was not just a silent retreat, it was a retreat for the mind, body and soul and guests were given three simple rules to follow:
- No verbal communication unless utterly necessary and practical.Mindless chatter was out.
- Physically, they were advised to almost set themselves a boundary surrounding the temple. During the hours between meditations and food, they were encouraged to walk around and enjoy the stillness of Sa Roca without straying too far into the real world.
- Mentally, they were to focus on meditation, mindfulness and trying to silence the monkey brain by letting go of attachments and feelings.
For me, volunteering in la cocina, it was a little bit difficult to get fully into it all, but I tried my best. My phone was left mostly in my backpack, I swapped my laptop for a book and aside from a few frases necesarias, my lips were sealed.
Shut yo’ mouth while I’m Motowning
Although I’m often compared to a whirlwind and can be a little bit of a social butterfly in real life, when I’m solo wandering, I’m very much a fan of my own company. So the whole sealed lips thing wasn’t much of a challenge at all.
In the first few days, however, I was made painfully aware that I do still suffer from the most common ailment of the 21st century; the Digital Twitch.
I wrote about this in detail a few months ago after attending a talk on digital distractions. The digital twitch is that urge you get every five, ten, twenty or however many minutes, to check your device.
It comes over you without you even realising, and before you know it you’ve got your phone in your hand, the screen is lit up and it’s bubbling with new stuff to look at. Having attempted a digital detox before, I knew what to expect, so to help discipline myself I uninstalled the majority of apps.
The second thing I struggled with was silencing my mind, and again, this came as absolutely no surprise.
First and foremost because I’ve just lost one of my favourite humans on the planet, so my heart is bursting with pain. And secondly because having grieved the death of my former life, my head is bursting with ideas for the next one.
There’s a lot of studies on silencing the monkey brain, and they say on average it takes twenty four hours. I have to be honest here and say that there were times when I managed to shut my internal mouth up for a little while, but I didn’t succeed in making it last more than an hour.
Regardless of whether it was a semi-silent, semi-retreat experience for me, I genuinely felt the benefits instantly.
As soon as I opened my eyes on the first morning, I consciously left my phone faced down and headed to the kitchen for breakfast. Normally, I’d be sitting at the table being entertained by a screen as I sip my cafe con leche, but this time there was no laptop, no mobile phone, not even a book or a notepad – it was just me and my breakfast.
The expressions on my face gave away how much this tiny act of mindful eating was taking effect.
Every single tastebud of my tongue was being tantilised and I’m not exaggerating to make it sound poetic. I could separate the bitterness of the coffee and the sweetness of soya milk as it swilled around my mouth and cascaded down my throat. I could taste the different flavoured grains in my cereal and was enjoying the difference in texture of each flake, depending on how saturated it was in milk. I could taste the orange peel in my marmalade and heard the crunch of every seed of bread between teeth.
It was dramatically different to the breakfasts I’d been having the days before, in fact, it was more than a breakfast, it was an experience.
Attitude of Gratitude
This was just the beginning of the good stuff.
That night, I slept like a baby for the first time since I got here. I’ve been waking up alert, the feelings of anticipation I’ve had in my stomach about securing my next adventure have dissipated and I’ve enjoyed just being in the here and now.
The biggest benefit I’ve felt is this overpowering sense of appreciation for things. It no doubt has a lot to do with losing somebody I Love before they even turned thirty-five, but it’s also a result of the silence and stillness.
I was smiling at everything – genuine smiles you don’t even realise are there until you pay attention to your facial muscles or the warm sensation in your body. I was smiling at the fact that broccoli looks like miniature trees when you cut it up, the tiny cotton ball clouds that made pretty patterns above my head and the fact that every time I opened my mouth to smile when cycling, a fly would dive right in there.
I felt grateful for the silent strangers around me. We hadn’t uttered a word to each other yet bizarrely I felt close to them, and I could sense the closeness between them too.
Especially the adorable French lady from Cannes. She must have been in her sixties but looked incredible for it with bronzed skin, white teeth and thick white hair. Every day she’d turn up for breakfast decorated in something wonderfully bright – a magical mix of eccentric and classy that not many could master. When she smiled at me it felt like a hug and I loved the way she’d blow kisses at me before she headed off to the temple.
But most of all, the silence made me appreciate my family, friends – the people I Love more than life itself and miss so so much. It made me miss them in a good way; no homesickness or wanting to return, just feeling lucky to have them in my life.
Silence is Golden
So I can’t claim to have taken part completely, but I can say this….a silent retreat is a holiday for the head and a spa for the soul.
It’s helped me grieve the right way, process my thoughts, look inwards and focus on the present moment. It made me feel close to people I’ve never uttered a word to and even closer to the ones I’ve shared a trillion syllables with.
This kind of environment isn’t necessarily something I’d want to immerse myself in forever, because without the noise of reality you’d never appreciate the silence anyway. But it is something I’d love to do again and again and again.
Silence is the pot of gold at the end of a very beautiful rainbow