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FEATURE - September 2017
How 3 Days of Silence at an Ashram Changed My Life
by Angela Watson Robertson
In my studies of yoga and meditation, I’ve often been told that silence is the best teacher and the inward journey the most sacred adventure. In 2015, I found myself in a profound turning point in my life: I’d just married, quit my corporate career of thirteen years with no backup plan, and my health was spiraling downhill.
When my life and health is a mess, I’ve learned to take time to myself to process all that is going on and re-center myself. I’ve learned that what I need is often not something external but something internal. It seemed the time had come to go inward, so I made the commitment to spend 3 days in silence at Siddhayatan Spiritual Retreat Center in Windom, TX. Little did I know, I had a lot to learn about silence and about myself.
I’d imagined a silent retreat would be just that—silent. I expected to feel a deep sense of peace, harmony, and spaciousness. I had read Eat, Pray, Love several times and heard my yogi friends talk about their “blissful” experiences at silent retreats. Yet, though there was a sense of relaxation from not having access to a radio, TV, or cell phone, and I’ve always enjoyed alone time, this was different. Once I silenced the external world, my internal world became noisy.
Right away, I realized that the busyness of my external life had kept me from listening to my inner life. The noise in my mind had always been there, I just didn’t take the time to notice. At first, I began to panic.
What if I lose my mind and go crazy?
I’m all alone here and there is nothing to distract my mind.
What was I thinking coming here?
When your mind is a racing with anxious thoughts and you’re on a silent retreat—all alone with your mind—at first it can feel like your own personal hell. This is why people are afraid of meditation, of silence, of time with themselves. It feels as if you cannot escape yourself and yet, that is all that you want to do. In our modern culture, we are given lots of opportunities to escape ourselves, so why would anyone choose to deny themselves that and go on a silent retreat? Well, the bottom line is that being alone with ourselves is often not fun, but if we can learn to do so gracefully, and consistently, there will be nothing to escape from anymore, and that is true freedom.
Soon enough, I remembered my training in yoga, and I centered myself using deep breathing. It wasn’t easy or a quick fix, but it helped me connect more deeply with my body. And then I prayed.
Allow me to fully be present and learn what I am meant to learn.
I continued with prayer and deep breathing every 10-15 minutes when I felt the most anxious. I found that setting a routine and schedule helps: Eat. Sleep. Stretch. Meditate. Pray. Write. Walk. Repeat. Similar to other difficult journeys in life, the inward journey to peace and balance requires one foot in front of the other, and sometimes simple tasks like breathing, walking, and praying get us through the toughest of times.
Surprisingly, it rained non-stop for the entire 3 days I was at the retreat center. It’s as if Mother Nature knew I needed as little external distractions as possible to focus on my inner self. Without exercise and outdoor activity, I was confined to stay in my tiny cabin and do my inner work.
Though this was frustrating, because my body craved exercise, in hindsight, this made all the difference. My confinement forced me to do what I was there to do—sit with myself and listen to my own inner knowing that I’d been disconnected from for too long.
On the second day, I found relief and stillness, and I began to write like I hadn’t written in years. I filled thirty pages in my notebook and began to de-clutter my mind. And then, after several rounds of meditation and prayer, I heard it. It’s time to go home.
I knew what this meant. After living far away from my family of origin for thirteen years, I’d been running long enough. It was time to reconnect with my family and friends and return to where I came from. I heard several messages from my own inner wisdom during that retreat. All simple, yet deeply personal and meaningful messages that I needed to hear.
As I recall my last day of silence, I remember that just as I drove away from the retreat center, the clouds parted, the rain stopped, and the sky was filled with sunlight. It was just another day, but I was no longer the same. Right then, I made a commitment to myself to make space for silence in my daily life from that day forward. I vowed to no longer wait years to connect with my inner self in silence. This is how I do it:
Each morning and evening (and sometimes throughout the day) I make time to practice the deep breathing exercise, called the 4-7-8 Breath, for five minutes to calm my mind. Find my demo of this technique on my YouTube channel here.
I create gaps in my calendar to allow for silence and non-activity. I consider this a spiritual practice and it requires saying “no” a lot and setting boundaries with my family and my business.
I’ve started following a “screen-free” day at least once a month where I keep my phone and computer off all day. I use this time to connect with friends and family in person, get out in nature, or simply go about my day without a screen in front of my face. What a concept, right?
As often as possible, I sit in meditation. No, I’m not on the floor in full lotus pose with mala beads around my neck chanting mantras (though I love mantras). I’m just in my favorite chair with headphones covering my ears to drown out external noise. And I sit. Sometimes I breathe or I pray. I don’t do this every day, but it’s my goal.
I have found that by creating more space for silence, my inner life is no longer as loud. I no longer have a lot of noise that I’m desperately trying to run away from by filling my day with endless activities and distractions. It’s the type of freedom I wish for everyone.
Today, as I write this, now settled in my home state, I recall how those 3 days of silence played a huge role in my moving back to the Midwest to be closer to family, planning a large wedding for all our friends and family 2 years after our elopement in Texas, and being open to motherhood and pregnancy. As my husband and I are now expecting a baby girl next February, I’m so grateful for the inner changes I experienced during those 3 days and how they transformed my life, career, and relationship to myself.
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Angela Watson Robertson, MBA, CIHC, INHC, is known as The Reinvention Warrior, host of Masters of Reinvention, and creator of the life-changing program, Fatigue Warrior. Not only has Angela completely reinvented her own life, she has created simple, effective tools to help others transform every area of their lives-from health, career, and money to relationships, spirituality, and sex. Find her free wellness tips, course and programs at www.angelawatsonrobertson.com. Connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, and Twitter.