Silent Self-Care: What I Learned from 240 Hours of Silence
August 01, 2019
This is a Guest Post written by Kate Rizzo. Kate is the GIRLBOSS and founder of Grow Club, a community organization that enables people to understand and connect to themselves, others and our world; through personal-growth workshops. Kate has a soft spot for the underdog and fights for all things social justice related. Her background in Psychology and Social Work, plus her work around the world and her personal experiences gives her the life education needed to work with people; and people, is what Kate is most passionate about. @growclub.co
If somebody asked what’s one thing that Kate does a lot, the answer talk would definitely be in the top three.
When I told my family and friends that I was going on a 12-day meditation retreat that involved 10 days of silence, many of them looked confused.
You see, we live in a society where we are taught to go-go-go, to do-do-do, to work-work-work!
We aren’t often told that it’s okay to just be.
If we aren’t working towards something, then we are lazy; but deep in my bones I knew this wasn’t true. I knew that the most powerful times of growth for me is when I am reflecting, when I am silent and still and that’s why I decided to challenge myself and take part in a 10 day Vipassana meditation course.
What does a Vipassana meditation retreat involve?
Vipassana is a Buddhist term, which means, “to see things as they really are”. Vipassana meditation is a process of self-purification through self-observation.
Now, don’t be fooled by the word retreat. It may have been amongst the most serene nature in the Yarra Valley but it was no five-star hotel. There was no champagne or bubble baths; there were shared camp-style rooms, one shared bathroom, a communal kitchen and a communal meditation hall.
It wasn’t until my first evening while I was sitting at the communal dinner table with 40 other strangers, waiting for our first information session that I realised what I had gotten myself into.
I saw the timetable that I was going to have to live by for the next 10 days. It consisted of 4:30am starts with two hours of meditation, breakfast and a break, another two hours of meditation, lunch and a break, another two hours of meditation, a break and then a discourse followed by… you guessed it, another two hours of meditation.
If some of you are thinking this woman is crazy, why would she put herself through this?, then you and I have something in common.
The thing was, I understood and believed that with big pain and discomfort comes big growth and I was definitely looking for big growth.
I decided that the only way out was through. Through what exactly? I was about to find out.
The mornings were hard as it was too early for this night-owl and too cold for this summer-lover.
Fasting in the evening was hard, as lunch was our last meal of the day. Not being able to talk to anybody was hard, but the hardest thing was having zero distractions.
No diary to write in.
No book to read.
Nobody to talk to.
I was surrounded by people and yet I was completely alone with nothing but my thoughts.
Even now, almost a year after I completed my course, I can’t accurately describe what it feels like to be left completely alone with only your thoughts for 10 days. There really is no other experience like it on earth.
I got through each day with spectacular highs and horrific lows. The highs included moments of bliss in my meditation or while sitting outside and soaking up the afternoon sun. Walking through the forest and noticing every tiny detail; the lines in each leaf, the direction the ants were all walking in, the birds singing to each other.
The lows were when my mind wouldn’t switch off and the memories, mistakes and traumas I wanted to forget had nowhere to go but stay right there, swirling around my mind on repeat.
Day 7 came and I had had enough. This was bullshit! Why had I even decided to come to this ridiculous hippy la-la land of wannabe yogis! I mean, what was I even trying to prove to myself? That I can be quiet? What a joke!
I went to my teacher, a female Buddhist monk—the only person I was allowed to talk to—and I told her I was ready to go home. She was a very calm, poised and wise woman in her late 60’s. She looked at me and asked me one question:
Kate, do you want to be this version of yourself?
It jolted me to my core.
I sat there on the floor with my legs crossed, crying like a child. I saw myself through her eyes and what I saw was a tired, exhausted child—a version of myself I did not want, nor need to be anymore. I answered her with all I could, a simple yet heartbreaking yet powerful NO.
With that, she encouraged me to stay, to challenge myself and remember why I came here in the first place. I left her and went to my room to cry myself to sleep. My body shook and shivered as I cried all the pain out. It flowed from my eyes and from my nose and slowly left my body.
Two hours later, I picked myself up and went back to the communal meditation hall, sat on my cushion and sank into a deep state of quiet peace.
The healing power of silence
The next three days I felt like I could breathe again, in a way I hadn’t for a very long time. I felt strong and I felt free. Most of all, I felt like I was home again, at home in my body and at home in my mind.
The healing power of disconnecting from the chaotic world and reconnecting with the peace and wisdom of our inner world is beyond any other kind of healing.
I gained so much from my 10 days of Vipassana, one being a daily meditation practice, but there are also three powerful healing lessons that I still hold on to and remind myself every day:
This too shall pass
My spirit is strong
What I am searching for is already within me
Would you do a silent retreat? Let us know in the comments below!