Original Drawing by Tina Ashton

Original drawing created by Tina Ashton www.tinaashton.co.uk

Mindfulness Leighton Buzzard

Silent or quiet?

I often get asked questions about the periods of silence on mindfulness retreat so wanted to share my personal take on why we practice silence and what it's like.  The periods of silence on retreat are actually my favourite times, for me the opportunity to not have to make conversation with other people around me is great.  I find myself releasing my inner introvert to run around gleefully without restraint and relish the freedom that it gives me.  It makes me realise how exhausting I sometimes find conversation.  Personally I never feel alone, we make eye contact with each other, smile by way of greeting and I feel quite content in going about my meals, breaks, meditation periods in the company of others all doing the same - I realise it isn't quite the same for everyone but then my Myers Briggs personality type is ISFJ the sociable introvert!

For the group that I share a retreat with the silence is held with a light touch.  We don't have to be silent in everything we do - I happily bash my boiled egg and stir my coffee and it is the lack of conversation which enables you to be more aware of the sounds around you that you may not have noticed before.  If someone says something because they've forgotten or they've dropped something, or would like you to pass the butter/juice/salt, nobody scowls or tells you to ssssh, its just more to notice, particularly those little flares of physical sensations if you were the one who spoke.   We don't do elaborate miming, (I have seen this at other day retreats) - surely everyone finds that more distracting than saying a couple of simple words, I know I do.  And if we see people who aren't on retreat we don't ignore them if they speak to us either, however we might keep conversation to a minimum and return to silence afterwards.

The advantage of periods of silence is that there is definitely more to notice with your other senses.  Someone stirring their tea sounds surpringly loud, the smell of coffee or peeling an orange is magnified and it is much easier to be aware of physical sensations in the body.  I find that I have a running commentary in my head about what is going on around me, maybe reflecting on the previous meditation session, or along the lines of "ooh this cakes tastes nice", (4pm everyday).  The lack of conversation with others means that when I go back to the next meditation session my mind isn't so distracted or busy processing thoughts and conversations but instead is ready to drop back into a calmer level of meditation.  To me the silence feels like one extended period of mindfulness, when I am aiming to be constantly aware of the present moment and what is happening around me but with different levels depending on whether I am meditating or not.

The running commentary of my own mind makes me feel like I'm getting to know myself better.  I recognise some of my thinking habits and patterns and often find myself amused at the random twists and turns that my mind takes, particularly when I think I've had a world changing insight!   I start to find little quiet areas to be on my own and seek solitude as well as silence but then I haven't yet experienced a full seven days of silence so that could be a completely different experience again.