Silent Retreat - The Mental Cleanse You Need Right Now

By Minji

“With all the stimulation in the world today, our minds are like constantly stirred up tea pots.  During silent retreat where you are cut off from all stimulus, these “tea pots” can finally find stillness.  The tea leaves sink to the bottom and clear liquid emerges.  It’s like all the junk in your head has settled down and you finally have clarity.  A mental cleanse and reboot at the same time.”

Despite all the controversy around cleansing, I’ve always been drawn to this concept of rebooting yourself.  I see all sorts of information about different cleanses everywhere and I like to experiment once in a while.  But have you ever considered cleansing your mind instead of your body?  Let me introduce you to the splendor of a silent meditation retreat – the only way I know to do a mental cleanse and actually reap life changing benefits.

A book called “10% Happier” got me started.  Dan Harris, the author, does such a good job of describing the experience, I had to try it.  Not that it sounded fun.  Actually, it sounded difficult and pretty intense.  It also sounded like an impactful journey that I couldn’t relate to but I wanted to get a taste of.  I booked a 5-day retreat for myself at the same place that Dan Harris went. 

I found myself instantly regretting it.  If my regular 30-minute meditation practice can be compared to a breezy 3-mile run, this retreat was like a marathon.  I was waking up at 5:30 am every morning, and besides meal times, meditating in silence for the entire day until bed time.  There was alternation between sitting and walking meditation, and a few sessions that incorporated yoga, so although a bit stiff, I was physically okay.  Mentally, not so much.  I had a hard time focusing and being present, I felt like I was in solitary confinement, and I missed my family.  There were glimpses of pure bliss during a “good” meditation session, but overall, I couldn’t wait to get out.  Finally, the moment I had been waiting for - they rang the final bell, the silence was broken and I was a free woman! 

Despite all the warnings, I was back to my old ways immediately.  I took out my cell and started checking a week’s worth of email (exactly what they tell you not to do).  When I got to the airport, I ran to McDonald’s and secured a Big Mac for my flight back, my favorite comfort food up to that point.  I was proud of myself for getting through the retreat but also thinking I wouldn’t do it again… until I bit into that Big Mac.  For the first time in my life, I could taste and smell all the unhealthy things that must be in that thing.  I realized in that short time, the silent retreat had cleansed my senses and my mind.  Now I could taste, smell, feel, and notice things I couldn’t before in my constant doing and speaking state.  I gave up fast food entirely in that moment.   

With all the stimulation in the world today, our minds are like constantly stirred up tea pots.  During silent retreat where you are cut off from all stimulus, these “tea pots” can finally find stillness.  The tea leaves sink to the bottom and clear liquid emerges.  It’s like all the junk in your head has settled down and you finally have clarity.  A mental cleanse and reboot at the same time.  

I now go on regular annual silent retreats that I genuinely look forward to.  It can still be challenging, isolating, and even boring at times.  But knowing the benefits I get from this mental cleanse, I am excited for the process.  On top of that, I’ve never seen anyone who’s been on a silent retreat tell me they regretted trying.

Unlike physical cleanses that can be controversial in terms of whether it’s doing the body good, I’ve yet to hear any expert say meditating and being still for a while can have adverse effects.  Yup, not speaking to anyone for an entire week – or even longer - can be a positive game changer.  You only live once - doesn’t this sound like something worth trying…even if maybe just to be able to give up fast food?