As people gathered around the five round tables for dinner, they stood solemnly in complete silence. Many either bowing their heads or gazing out into the distance past those across from them. As the last person joined our table, everyone pulled their chairs out, sat down and began eating. About 30 people in the room were all eating in silence. No tension in the air, no ill feelings. As a matter of fact, it was the exact opposite, it was very freeing. What I didn’t realize is that I had joined a dinner with a group of practicing Buddhists finishing their week long retreat – many of them spending the past 6 days in silent contemplation.
When you feel tired of producing at your job, tired of trying to keep up with crazy schedules of your family or feel overwhelmed by a mountain of emails, the bombardment of divisive political ads, sensationalized news stories or the rapid advancement of technology – what do you turn to? Does it relieve that burden of overwhelm or does it merely mask it? Is it a healthy remedy or an unhealthy one? There seems to be no end to the noise. Sometimes it all becomes, TOO MUCH! We all deal with stresses in life different ways; however few of us actually take the time and simply unplug from it all.
A few weeks ago, I was in that place. I took 3 days to be in quiet and solitude. For the first time in my life, I checked into an interfaith monastery to be in absolute silence. To think, to meditate and to plan out my next year.
I knew I needed to make a temporary, major shift to decompress, get my head clear and to take a deep breath. What I experienced was life-altering.
Many people have never taken the time to be with themselves for more than a few hours without outside stimulation from TV, Internet, phones, magazines, music, books, etc. Many of us feel that we either don’t have time to do so, we would be selfish to do so or that it wouldn’t be productive to do so. I thought the latter.
I love productivity and use the latest technology to figure out ways to be more productive and effective. However, this time I knew that I didn’t need another productivity book, seminar, a family vacation or even a weekend with my wife; I needed to recharge in quiet, to let the ringing in my ears from all of the demands and outside stimulation quiet itself.
Many of us have so many demands on our time that we cannot take a weekend or even a day off. Everyone (even extroverts) needs to have time by themselves; no work, no tech, no media. The less you bring in, the more of yourself will come out. That may scare some people, but may be just what you need.
So when you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed or overloaded, and you’re ready to try a different method of dealing with it, you may enjoy the following:
1. Disengage Completely. Tune out by getting away from everyone. Get away from your significant other, kids, parents, pets, plants, phones, internet, media, kindle, iPad, etc. If you only have a little time, get in the car and go for a drive on country roads. Get out in the woods and walk quietly for an hour. Find a bench and sit there for an hour or two. Do you think it’s possible? Could you sit on a rock or a tree stump for an hour and not want to scream, jump up, check your Facebook or the time every five minutes?
Spend a weekend in solitude. No conversations, no phone calls, no texting, no internet. Unplug from everything. No generated or synthetic stimulation. Keep food simple, keep noise to a minimum and let your mind detox. Chances are there are places near you that you can check in to for a nominal fee. Many monasteries of different faiths maintain rooms for guests to visit. Silence may be observed in living quarters. Some will accommodate your wanting to be in silence and will even give you a small sign to wear around your neck to tell others that you are not speaking. Pretty radical, right?
The only other time I’ve experienced this silence was when I took a drive across the US. On the third day into my trip, I drove from a small town in Texas to deep into Oklahoma. It took almost an entire day just driving back highways in total silence across the plain states. It was an unbelievable opportunity to get to know myself.
Few of us ever do get to know ourselves because we are inundated by outside stimulation. From the moment we wake up until the minute we fall asleep we are bombarded by media messages. We become somebody we were not designed to be merely out of the influence of repetitive messages. You need to get to a point where you can hear yourself again.
2. Choose Your Mental Diet. Pick the healthy stimulation YOU want to let in. If you are going to start with this clean slate, know what you are about to put into your mind. Would you choose poetry, a Holy Book, classical music, an autobiography or old family photo album? What seeds do you want to germinate in this rich soil you are turning over? Choose wisely because this stimulation will point you in a very specific direction following this event.
3. Have a Medium to Capture Your Thoughts On. Get a notebook and pencil or pen. Once an idea comes to you, write it down without judging it. It may just be a phrase or an emotion, etc. Don’t force anything and don’t feel like you have to fill a page – let alone a whole pad of paper. This is not an exercise in productivity! Don’t be disappointed if you feel like you didn’t accomplish some spiritual high; that isn’t necessarily the goal.
4. Prepare Mentally to Assimilate Back Into Your Real Life. Whether it is an hour or a weekend, we all have to get back to the “real world.” What new ideas have you taken away to implement into your daily life? A new perspective to see your world from? A new metaphor to live by?
Remember, when you come back to earth, people will not be on the same page as you; so don’t get angry or feel disappointed if they don’t meet you at your level. They may unintentionally rain on your parade. Don’t let it get you down – expect it. They are not the one coming down from the mountaintop.
5. Make Changes to Your Schedule & Your Space. Upon returning, make some significant changes. They may be subtle like watching less TV, limiting the time you’re on the computer, taking a quiet walk in the morning before work, turning off the radio on the drive home from work or choosing positive reading material. You will be amazed by the drastic changes a small adjustment to your routine will make a month, a year and many years down the road.
Simplify your living environment. De-cluttering, putting up inspirational quotes or simply changing your furniture around will help you solidify new habits.
Over the next couple weeks see what works for you and what doesn’t. One thing I can promise you is that adding times of quiet contemplation will expand your capability of dealing with what life throws at you.