3 Powerful Benefits of a Silent Retreat

"We all have within us a center of stillness surrounded by silence..."
—Dag Hammarskjold

By Edi Pasalis and Jess Frey

On the opening night of the Kripalu Silent Retreat, the room is filled with wonder, hesitation, fear, excitement, courage, and vulnerability. The retreat is conducted in social silence. There is no chit-chat or small talk and, for some, not talking in this habitual way can be scary and disconnecting. Silence may bring about a sense of aloneness. Yet interestingly, in this space of communal quiet, we come to meet ourselves and one another quite intimately. In the still silence, we discover a profound connection that encompasses our own wholeness and belonging in both the inner landscape of ourselves and the wider world around us. As we make this journey from me to we, we learn how to live from the wisdom of silence not simply stop talking.

Being silent is a vehicle for reconnection in three powerful ways.

First, being silent begins to slow us down.

Closing our mouths literally and physically quiets us. It stops the upward and outward flow of energy and gives us a moment to breathe, relax, settle the “monkey-mind”, and to land again within ourselves. The nervous system begins to quiet and our bodies shift from a physiological state primed for separation to one of openness and connection. Stopping the flow of words softens the armor that we use to protect ourselves and allows us to be truly present. In the retreat, we sometimes call this phase of the journey the pathway to presence. We stop talking, stop rushing, stop avoiding ourselves, and make a choice to re-inhabit our bodies, come home, to be here, and intimately meet life. As we land in presence, we can sense the gathering of each other. There is a feeling of community (sangha). Being in a room together becomes an unspoken holding of encouragement and support along the way.

Second, being silent provides the opportunity to experience aspects of our inner landscape we usually keep hidden.

As we sit in silence, we see some of our less virtuous reasons for speaking. How we use words to connect but also to distance and push away. How we solicit regard of others to feel good about ourselves or use our words to "serve" others and secure a place of usefulness and worth. As we bring compassion to our own fragility and shadow, we cultivate the ability to offer kindness to others. We dissolve the story of me and mine and rest into our shared humanity. We re-discover are all one family.

Third, being in silence, we can hear our authentic voice.

We discover we can speak from an aliveness beyond habit or social nicety. This aliveness rests in the same power of prana, life energy, that births babies, moves the tides, and grows trees. In retreat, we create opportunities to speak from the wisdom of silence. When we speak from this deep and true center, we perceive a belonging that goes beyond shared humanity and experience the interconnectedness and power of wholeness.

The wisdom of silence is a lifelong exploration. Our lives can be noisy in a multitude of ways that might be as obvious as the noise of our electronic devices—scrolling, TV, podcasts, radio, and so much more. Or it may be noise that we make—overeating, overthinking, worrying, multi-tasking. Where and how do we fill or cover the wisdom of silence with noise? Where in life is it most noisy?

At home we can take the benefits of quiet into our everyday life by turning off phone notifications, walking in nature, or eating a silent meal. We can discover the clear-seeing gifts of silence by cultivating a yoga or meditation practice. And we can reconnect with our true nature through journaling, meditation in motion, and speaking our truth in relationships.

Ultimately, through being silent, we learn to live from silence. We practice living, speaking, and acting from the place within us that is still, quietly, and whole.