In today’s modern culture, we are constantly bombarded by noise, interruptions, notifications, and a constant attack on our senses. We are inundated with messages of creating a personal brand, curating and communicating an image we want to project as if our natural state of being is not polished enough. Our eyes are fixated on screens, our ears are engulfed in noise through the latest headphone innovations, and our minds are constantly focused on achieving more or bettering ourselves. Society is increasingly moving away from allowing humans to simply be as they are and instead, rewarding the curated self and the action of doing.
Taking a vow of silence can help us take a pause and to temporarily move away from these things and allow ourselves to simply be as we are and notice the present moment. While being silent is simple, it is not necessarily easy, especially for long periods of time. However, being silent can help us tune in and acknowledge ourselves as we are without trying to fix anything. It can create space for us to truly be present to our environment, observe what we take in from our environment, reflect on what we put on in the world, and become aware of how much we connect or even disconnect from the people we surround ourselves with.
Embarking on a silent retreat is more than avoiding speaking, it is a means to truly disconnect from communication– no emails, no texts, and for some even disengaging completely from forms of distractions such as Netflix, the internet, and anything that falls under doing mode instead of being mode. Taking a vow of silence can be challenging, especially if you have not practiced it before. Here are ten tips to get started.
Start with Why
Before attempting to spend a lot of time with only your own inner thoughts, start with your why. Determining why you want to engage in a silent retreat can not only help set your parameters and plan but help create an intention with the practice gets difficult. Perhaps your reason is to connect with yourself or it may be listening deeply to loved ones. It may simply give yourself a break from sensory overload. Whatever your motivation may be is fine but understanding what it is in advance can help guide you and keep you motivated.
Some people take 5 or 10-day silent retreats while others have gone for thirty days. If you have not practiced silence before, this venture can be incredibly unrealistic, especially if you are not in a retreat environment where you have the support of a guide. It can also be traumatizing for some people without training and resources.
Starting small with half-day or one-day silent retreat can help make the experience more accessible. It will allow you the space to see what your comfort levels are and how to extend them within your own window of tolerance. Shorter periods of silence can help acclimate you to some of the challenges that may arise without feeling trapped making it possible to engage in longer periods of silence more often.
Have an Experienced Guide
Taking a vow of silence can truly be challenging. It may even be difficult to know where to start. Finding an experienced guide can help you plan your vow of silence but also offer support when things become challenging. Guides can be gurus or authors that resonate with you but it can also be experienced meditators who are trained to run silent retreats.
Pick Your Location
Where you decide to take a vow of silence can directly impact your experience. A lot of it will be guided by your intention. For instance, if you are interested in listening deeply to others, you may want to be in environments where family and friends are around. However, if your intention was to come back to yourself, you may prefer to pick someplace where you are alone. It could be helpful to take a road trip or rent a space free of common distractions.
Turn off or Silence Technology
We often think of silence as words that we hear. However, in today’s digital age, speaking occurs through text, email, and tweets. By turning off technology, silence can be experienced by not challenging us to respond to one more text or one more email. It can allow the mind to disconnect from the wave of notifications and pings that takes us away from being present.
Plan Out a Schedule for a Vow of Silence
Planning a schedule can help you commit to your vow of silence. This can vary from person to person. Some people opt to continue with their day to day living, maintaining silence while working, and engaging with friends and family members. Others use this as a time to disengage from the rigors of our constant bombardment of messages, notifications, and activity and spend more time at home or in solitude. Others may opt to even get away and go on a silent retreat.
There is no right or wrong way to approach vow of silence but by having a plan and schedule, it can make the experience more manageable and less daunting. If going through regular daily living, it could be helpful to notify people in advance. If you are doing it on your own, write down periods of time you would like to allot for different activities. It could be yoga, meditation, journaling, walking, or other mindful activities.
Notice What is Happening
While taking a vow of silence, it may seem like the journey into the self has to be a certain way– perhaps blissful, luxurious, or pleasant. While this may be the case, it is not the point of taking a vow of silence. By being silent, it affords you the opportunity to notice things as they are. Whether they be pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral.
While practicing you may notice judgments come up. They may be towards others or they may be to yourself. Perhaps it ends up being more difficult than you thought and there could be self-talk as to wanting yourself or the experience to be a different way. As you sit quietly, try to practice non-judgment. Allowing the experience to simply be as it is without judging it as good or bad but simply an experience to notice habitual patterns, thoughts, and emotions.
Stay Within Your Window of Tolerance
Taking a vow of silence can be a lot. It can be a space and time to reflect and notice aspects of yourself and your life that may have been simmering under the surface of constantly doing. While it can be an enlightening experience, it could also be too much. As you take your silent retreat, notice when things are uncomfortable, uncomfortable but manageable, or too distressing. If it becomes too painful or even frightening, know when it is time to stop.
Reflect on Your Experience
It could be helpful as you start with your why and plan your experience to journal about your vow of silence. As you conclude, it could be helpful to reflect on those same questions and other thoughts, emotions, or sensations that arose during the retreat. As you reflect, noting that every experience or observation may not be something that needs to change but an aspect of your life or habitual patterns to simply become aware of.
Taking a vow of silence can be challenging yet a rewarding experience to connect back with yourself and become attuned to the present moment.
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A graduate of Arizona State University, Nicole Baker is a force to be reckoned with in the realm of health and wellness. She studied behavioral health, which propelled her desire to live holistically and share her knowledge with other like-minded individuals.