What 10 Days of Silence Taught Me

It seemed like a good idea ... 

but when it was time to leave for the 10-day silent meditation retreat that I signed up for a few weeks prior, I was having serious second thoughts. The idea of prolonged silence made me panic. After torturing myself about going or not going, I decided to just start driving the 4-hour trip to the retreat center and see what happened.

I made it there. The next day, I took the vow of Noble Silence, which meant that I did not speak, make eye contact, use body language or draw attention to myself for the next 10 days. Additionally, I couldn't read, journal, doodle or do yoga. I was to immerse myself in the silence and learn/practice the meditation technique.

During this period of silence, I noticed and learned many things.

One of the things I noticed is that my mind, without any prompting, produced thoughts in an endless stream. Past memories and future possibilities. I recalled the entire Saturday morning cartoon line-up from 1972 to 1977, lyrics of Led Zeppelin songs, boys I'd had crushes on, vacations I wanted to take, meals I was going to cook, past hurts and future joys. Everything. All on its own.

The meditation technique I learned was to simply watch the thoughts go by, like watching leaves fall -- one after the other -- without reacting or attaching myself to any of the thoughts. I was to be mindful of what my mind was doing.

It was not easy. I thought about leaving every day, until about day 7. The whole retreat pretty much kicked my butt. That was 15 years ago. Even though much time has passed, I still use this mindfulness technique. It remains as powerful and as useful as ever.