Have you ever spent 2.5 days in silence? And I mean complete silence. Not talking to anyone. No internet. No phones. No reading books. No journaling. No distractions of any kind. Just one with yourself and nature.
I just had this amazing experience in July 2019 and it was an eye-opening and sobering experience! I am currently on a year-long journey to become a Certified Mindfulness Instructor through Mindful Schools. The process began with a 5-day retreat at the Garrison Institute in New York, then a year-long course throughout the 2019-2020 academic school year, and a closing retreat in the summer 2020.
So… how was it? It was challenging, but not impossible! I learned so much about myself and I met many amazing people from all over the United States, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Vietnam, Bali and other places around the world! Here are a few noticings and challenges I came across throughout the intense, but significant retreat.
1. Chit-Chat. You should know that I could talk... a lot... like, even to myself! Throughout the times of silence I noticed I do too much “nonsense” talking. What I mean by that is many of us feel the need to fill silence space with trivial conversation, such as talking about the weather and making people laugh. Although those conversations may bond us as humans, it was nice at times not having the obligation to partake in minor chit chat.
2. Being in the Moment. I found that sometimes we lie to ourselves and say we’re in the moment because we’re taking pictures of the moment. However, there are a lot of little things we miss while we’re taking our phones out or adding a filter to the pictures we took. It was beautiful to notice the shape of leaves in a perfect heart, the travel patterns of insects, and the way frogs/toads can camouflage themselves in the woods. I would have missed all of this if I had my phone.
3. Social Media. I appreciated being away from my phone and all of the responsibilities I give myself on social media.The break was so good that although we were only in silence for 2.5 days, I didn’t jump on social media until the fourth day which was the Fourth of July. Did I miss it? While I love interacting with friends on social media and learning from so many professionals sharing tips… I really didn’t miss it! I will say I missed talking to my family and checking up on my son (which was probably the biggest challenge of all), but social media… it was a break which was welcomed!
1. Nature. I should tell you, while my parents both grew up on farms in Dominican Republic, I was raised in urban areas of New York City and New Jersey and am a true city girl. Even Jersey suburbs have more trees and grass than I’m used to. At the Garrison Institute, the mountains were gorgeous and watching a field filled with fireflies at sunset was absolutely magical. However, while I appreciate nature, bugs aren’t really my thing… and there sure were a lot of bugs! Despite this being a challenge,watching the sun rise and set over the mountains was breathtaking, it was beautiful watching bunnies hop around, and hiking in the woods was an adventure. One morning I encountered a deer just a few feet away from me, which although scary (for my city girl self), it was quite an experience!
2. Some Aspects of Silence. While it was nice to not have to fill quiet space with trivial conversation, it was a challenge not saying “good morning” when I really wanted to, or simple things like “thank you,” “God bless you,” or “I love your outfit.” Another challenge of spending 2.5 days in silence was the thoughts of judgments that would arise in place of conversation with others. Sometimes we also wonder what others are thinking because we’re unsure of our own thoughts. I learned to try not to make assumptions of others, and of others’ thoughts.
3. Mindful Eating. The most challenging aspect of being in silence (besides not talking to my family) was sitting face-to-face with others during meals and not engaging in conversation. Looking around a big dining hall and averting eye contact with everyone (to not feel weird or make others feel uncomfortable) was a challenge. However, when comparing the meals in silence versus the meals in conversation, I noticed I was more conscious of my portion servings, and was able to appreciate the various flavors in the food, as opposed to eating quickly in efforts to partake in conversation.
Overall, although an intensive experience, I’m very proud of myself! I’m proud of myself for trying new things (like going for a hike in the woods by myself, coming face-to-face with a deer, and not quitting the hike), for trying new vegetarian and plant-based foods, and for rising to the challenge of keeping silence.
I’m sure you can imagine how mindfulness can have awesome benefits for students in schools. If you can’t imagine it, there is a ton of research which supports it! If you’re an educator wishing to integrate mindfulness in your classrooms and schools, check out Mindful Schools. There are courses you can take to learn more about mindfulness, or you can deepen your knowledge and become a Certified Mindfulness Instructor.
I do recommend these types of retreats for anyone needing to be more at peace with themselves. It is an experience difficult to recreate on a daily basis. However, there are outings which can bring you aspects of this experience.
Through my Amiga Moms events, I empower women with the knowledge and experience of being mindful mothers. I also teach Mindfulness Classes for kids in Ridgefield, New Jersey. Visit my site to learn more information and register.
I love sharing the benefits of mindfulness to children and adults. Feel free to subscribe to my site to stay informed of events, and to receive Mindful Monday tips each week.
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Counselor De Jesus
Vanessa De Jesus Guzman is a former teacher, school counselor and licensed associate counselor serving children and families in the northern New Jersey area. To learn more visit www.freetobemindful.com.