When my husband dropped me off at Spirit Rock for my first silent retreat, I begged him not to leave.
“I don’t want to do this,” I whined.
“How much did you pay for it?”
“It doesn’t matter how much I paid. I can’t back out now.”
“You’ll be fine. Just follow your heart. Okay, bye sweetie!”
And then he was gone. I was left in a cloud of dust with a suitcase, sleeping bag, and meditation pillow. There was nothing else to do but walk through the gate marked “Retreat Area. Silence Please” and check in for a week of solitude. I felt like Cheryl Strayed in Wild: completely unprepared for a challenge I knew I had to face. Alone.
I’ve been home for awhile now, and still the experience feels too big to put into words. But after some time to digest and many conversations with friends and family, it’s time to write something. So here you go: my biggest fears about going on retreat and how each one turned out to be a total myth.
MYTH #1: I’ll go crazy without talking for a week.
Everyone asks if I started talking to myself after seven days of silence. Surprisingly my experience was the opposite. Being quiet is an incredible gift to yourself. It brings so much energy back to you — in fact, it was one of the most refreshing parts of the retreat week.
When you stop talking to others, you stop talking to yourself as much, too. I was amazed at how quiet my mind got after a few days. Instead of constantly thinking about what I would say next or how I would explain something, my thoughts just took a little rest. I haven’t felt that calm in a long time.
It’s also incredible how much you can get to know people without conversation. I felt connected to the 90 people around me without sharing words. We were sharing space and we were sharing an experience and that was enough.
MYTH #2: I’ll die of boredom.
“So what did you do the whole time with no technology or talking or music or reading?” my friends ask.
“Didn’t you get bored?”
I was anxious to give up all my normal forms of entertainment and expression, especially reading and writing. And by the end of the week, I was surprised how turning myself over to such a simple life made my experiences so much more rich. The retreat’s primary teaching was to be in the moment, with the understanding that “just being” is the source of true well-being. It’s hard to imagine until you’ve seen it for yourself, but it’s true.
There were very few moments that I felt bored. In fact, with my whole energy in one place I felt more connected than ever. Drinking a cup of tea became an immersive experience on its own, filled with beautiful details. The smooth ceramic against my skin. The funny sound of slurping. The heightened sense of smell. The pleasure of warmth filling my body.
Without so much external stimuli, I got really curious about simple things. And in the simple things there is so much to be discovered.
MYTH #3: Doing this alone might alienate me from people I love.
I didn’t even tell my best friend I was going on this retreat. I was worried people would think it was some weird hippy shit or robe-wearing cult. How could anyone understand why I needed to do this? Would going into the wilderness make it difficult to connect with people when I came back?
Turns out the opposite was true. My first week back was one of the most romantic times I’ve had with my husband since our honeymoon. There was such a sweetness and tenderness to the way he took care of me and responded to my state of openness and vulnerability. My defenses were down and so were his. We connected in a way that was genuine and loving and free of the many patterns that have crept into married life. Feeling this raw connection with my husband was worth the whole retreat just on its own.
An alarming number of friends and family called in my first days back. Everyone was curious to know every detail of the retreat — the daily routine, the challenges, the biggest takeaways. Now I’m proud to share my story. And every time I do, the same response comes: “I’m so happy for you. I’m so glad that you did this for yourself.”
MYTH #4: I’m going to drive myself nuts.
My biggest fear was that being alone with myself would force me to look inside: to open up my heart and find some horrible darkness in there. And here’s the biggest revelation of my experience: I looked inside and found nothing to be afraid of. It was just me.
One of the most pleasant surprises of my week at Spirit Rock was how calm and grounded I felt in the first few days. Lifting the external pressures of daily life helped me settle into a quiet place that was truly restorative. My mind became soft and I felt extremely comfortable in my own skin.
The teachers told me I was lucky to be free of self-judgment, as it’s one of the most common symptoms on retreat. How did I get so lucky? Maybe I was ready for this. Maybe something inside of me was waiting all along, ready for me to come home. And that’s exactly how it felt. Like coming home.