Three days of silence. No cell phone, no Blackberry, no email, no computer, no television, no radio, no one to talk to. Nothing but the sound of waves crashing on the shore, a seagull’s cry and the rustle of fallen leaves. Does this sound like heaven, or does it strike fear in your heart just thinking about it? What do you do with all this time and absolutely no distractions? You begin to remember who you really are, why you are here and what your soul’s purpose is in this lifetime.
This was my first time on a silent retreat. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been silent for more than a few hours a day, let alone three entire days. But at some point in your life, you know you need to do this. For me, the time was now. I didn’t know what to expect, but I did know that my intent was to gain clarity on a number of different levels in my life. Not only did I accomplish that, but I received visions of what was intended for me that surpassed my wildest dreams and imagination.
My first day began with the drive to my destination where I would be spending these three days of silence. Being the perfectionist that I am, I thought it would be good to drive there with the radio and my cell phone off, just so I could get an early start. The first thing I noticed was how many times my hand would automatically go to the radio on/off switch to turn it on and I’d have to remind myself each time that I wasn’t going to do that. I really didn’t even care to listen to anything, but it was just the habit of having that constant noise or distraction.
Once I arrived and checked into my room, I felt instant relief. There was no television and no phone in the room and I had left my phone in my car on purpose, so I wouldn’t be tempted to turn it on and check email or see if anyone had called. I really prided myself on not being addicted to the “Crackberry”. Or so I thought! That turned out to be a real exercise in discipline as after a few hours I would go to look for the phone and remember that it was in the car. It was then that I started to realize how dependent I had become on the “Crackberry” and that in fact, I too was addicted.
It amazed me how time stood still here. Throughout the three days, it continued to go by slower and slower. Which for me was actually a good thing and in a way such a relief as typically I am always feeling rushed and that there’s never enough time in the day. I had gotten to the point where I would feel burdened to even stop to eat during the workday because it took up too much time. Yes, I definitely needed this retreat. I would look at my watch and after what seemed like a few hours, would check it again to find that barely an hour had passed! How was this possible? Normally when time passes that slowly it’s because I’m bored, but I was far from bored here. Was it the beauty of watching the ocean? Was it the peacefulness of the grounds? Was it the quiet solitude of knowing that the phone wasn’t going to ring and no one was coming to your door to bother you? Or was it just an example for me that time is not linear and is continually overlapping?
I spent most of my first day settling in and relaxing and wondering what to expect. There were a handful of other silent retreatants, all older women, along with me and there were also people there for day conferences and not on silent retreat. It was interesting to observe that the people who were not silent seemed to know who was and were so courteous in giving us our space. There was a private dining area for silent retreatants and eating became quite the ritual. Each person sat in the same spot for each meal, except for me who rotated amongst the tables. There seemed to be a contest going on as to who could make the least amount of noise eating and who could eat the slowest. Of course, this was probably all in my head, but I enjoyed making a game out of it. What was good for me was the slowing down of mealtime. I started to think about what I was eating and how it was nourishing my body. I wondered about what it would be like to not know when or where your next meal was coming from and that became an initial insight into one of my big visions while I was there.
As I looked around at the other older women I realized that the age difference between them and me was a good twenty plus years. I wondered why there wasn’t anyone else there that was closer to my age. And I realized that people my age were too busy with their children, family and careers to invest the time to do this. Maybe it hasn’t even occurred to most people why they would want to do this or if it has that it’s a luxury to do this in mid-life, when I had the realization that it wasn’t a luxury, it was necessity. I wondered if these other women here had been doing this all their life or just when they became older and had more time. When I would catch their eyes, they seemed to look at me like I knew something they knew and they were glad I had figured it out at a much younger age.
On my second day I had a surprise visitor. A tiny little cat with beautiful brown markings, almost like a Siamese/tiger cross came strolling through the grounds right past my bedroom. Being a cat lover, I opened the door in my room that led outside and hearing me open it, she immediately stopped, turned and meowed at me. Throwing my silent vow to the wind for a minute, I called to her and she proceeded to turn around, walk into my room and jump up on my bed. I closed the door to see if she would stay for awhile at the same time wondering if I was supposed to have a cat in my room. She then sprawled out on my bed as if it were her own. She had a collar on with tags and her name was Winnie. I lay down next to her and pet her while she purred and curled up to take a short nap. Was she here to help me pass the time and forget that I was lonely for awhile or was there a greater meaning? After about half an hour, she stood up, stretched and jumped off the bed. She went to the door, looked back at me and meowed. It was time to go, she had places to be. I let her out and she continued on her way. I believe her message was – have a plan, know where you want to go, but be open to opportunities that arise along the way. You never know when you might meet a new friend or find a place to lay your head for a while. I firmly believe that animals that come into your life unexpectedly have some message or meaning for you and I made a note to look up cat in my animal totem book when I got home. In fact, Winnie was not the only animal messenger for me on my retreat. Both nights I heard an owl cry just outside my room and the second night a skunk passed by me as I was walking back from the beach.
Throughout the three days, I think I experienced every emotion possible. Relief when I arrived that I could leave everyone and everything behind for a few days. Inspiration at seeing the ocean and sitting on the beach watching the waves hit the shore. Boredom from having nothing to do and nothing to read. Loneliness after being by myself most of the day and not speaking to anyone. Excitement and joy from journaling and meditating and having some great ideas and solutions come through. And peace from just being able to be. What was most fascinating to me was that at times it seemed like I was an observer of myself. I experienced an emotion and just when it would seem overwhelming, it would pass and another emotion would come. Out of loneliness and boredom came a great vision of my future and what I would be accomplishing and who I would be. This experience made me realize once again that everything passes with time, the good and the bad. And maybe what you think is good or bad, is just your interpretation of that and not really the case at all.
I hope that this inspires at least one person to take this journey. Words can not describe how amazing this experience was and I am definitely considering doing this at least once a year, probably for a longer period of time. The clarity and insight that you receive after all the distractions fall away is priceless. Don’t wait until most of your life has passed by to find out the true meaning of why you are here.
Oh, and the meaning of the cat: according to author Ted Andrews of Animal Speaks, cats are associated with myth and lore, magic and mystery. Since the cat is at home in the dark, it serves as a valuable ally into the world of the supernatural and the unknown and can help those with this totem move through their fears efficiently. The energy field of a cat rotates in a counterclockwise direction, the opposite of a human energy field. Because of this, cats have the ability to absorb and neutralize energy that affects humans in a negative way. This is part of the healing medicine that the cat holds. If something affects you in a negative way place a cat on your lap or find a cat to pet. Your energy field will immediately realign itself and inner balance will be restored. If cat appears in your life the blending of magic and mystery is at hand. A trustworthy teacher, the cat will guide you into the world of self discovery and transformation.
The owl: Active at dawn and dusk owls are sometimes referred to as the night eagle, a messenger from the darkness and a guide through all the mysteries that it contains. It teaches us how to embrace our personal darkness without fear. Owls are sometimes thought to come to those that are about to die. This does not mean a physical death as much as it means the letting go of some part of yourself that is not serving you. Owls with their spectral senses help guide us through the dark tunnels of fear, change and uncertainty to the brilliant light shining at the other end. If the owl appears in your life thank it for its willingness to guide you through its shadowy realm to the other side of promise and joy.
The skunk: The skunk is a powerful totem with mystical and magical associations. They hold an air of self confidence and can teach us how to develop self esteem and self respect. The stripe running from the head to the tail of the skunk is linked to the creative life force within. When this medicine is fully developed those with this totem have the ability to direct their creative energy to manifest a desired result.
Dr. Diane Hayden is the owner and publisher of Natural Nutmeg Magazine and Essential Living Maine Magazine and co-author of The Weight Loss Puzzle, Finally Solved. She is an author, speaker, and workshop facilitator. She holds a B.S. in Marketing from the University of Connecticut, a Ph.D. in Exercise Physiology from the University of Maryland and is an Empowerment Life Coach. For 20 years, her work has focused on teaching people to learn about the power of thought and belief systems and how that shapes their lives. Her passion centers on empowering and inspiring individuals to become entrepreneurs, work from anywhere, and create the life they dream about. You can learn more about her online at: www.naturalnutmeg.com or www.drdianehayden.com.