What’s the longest time you have ever gone without uttering a word? Sleeping doesn’t count. Have you ever gone four hours, eight hours, or the whole waking day?
I recently returned from a weekend silent retreat. Twenty-five random strangers and I from around Ontario gathered at a retreat centre nestled on a beautiful 600 acres in the Guelph region.
From Friday at eight p.m. to Sunday at noon, silence was the rule. We ate meals together, relaxed in the common area, passed each other on walking trails, but through it all, we maintained absolute silence.
No phones or devices were permitted—a tough challenge for a union representative! I was amazed at the freedom that can be found in being released from the pressure of communication.
In today’s world, silence is a rare commodity. External stimuli and noise are nonstop, and even when we are able to catch a few minutes of noise-free solitude, our internal minds race with to-do lists, stress, and busy thoughts.
And our health—both physical and mental—suffer as a result. A 2011 World Health Organization report called noise pollution a “modern plague,” concluding that “there is overwhelming evidence that exposure to environmental noise has adverse effects on the health of the population.”
While science has not catalogued all the benefits of silence and slowing down, most of us know intuitively that they are good for our health. We feel refreshed after that short walk by ourselves, that long soak in the tub, or that 20 minutes of solo me-time we squeeze into the middle of our hectic day.
I acknowledge that going on a weekend silent retreat may seem extreme to some. But I can honestly say that I came away from the retreat with a strong sense of peace.
In silence, we are able to hear our own thoughts and emotions, creatively reflect on our life, our experiences, and our interactions with those around us. It gives us the space to become the best version of ourselves we can be—both in our work life and personal life.
So as we move into spring, look for those opportunities for silence and solitude. No need to be extreme. Ten minutes here; twenty minutes there. Give your brain and your soul the time they need to recharge and replenish.
Perhaps you will be inspired to challenge yourself to set a new personal record for time spent in silence. Mine is now 30 hours.