I decided to pull the plug on my overfunctioning after reading about the concept of silent retreats in an article in last month’s issue of the Seattle Met. I found a nearby retreat center that hosted silent retreats, and it sounded intriguing. I’d already been contemplating the idea of taking a digital sabbatical, or digital detox, just to see what it would be like to unplug for a while.
I knew I’d become overly reliant on my phone. On the rare occasion that I’d accidentally left it at home, I noticed that I experienced a sinking feeling in my stomach. And I knew that wasn’t healthy.
I mean, I’m fairly certain that human beings can live without mobile devices. Every generation before us has. And prior to owning my first cell phone in 1998, I managed to stay alive with only a rotary dialing phone.
But another reason going on a silent retreat sounded so compelling was that I’d always struggled with taking a break from doing–reading, writing, thinking, journaling, cleaning, planning, organizing. As an overfunctioner, it’s difficult to be still and quiet for any length of time. Honestly, the mere idea of that makes me feel uncomfortable. And that’s exactly why I needed this.
I decided to try a silent retreat at home first before committing the time and money to a retreat center. And overall, I think I achieved what I set out to. There were, however, a few things I’d do differently next time.
1. Have a clear purpose. Knowing what you want to accomplish during your silent retreat experience is key. This experience was more of an experiment, to see what worked and what didn’t. In hindsight, though, I wish that I’d put a bit more structure in place. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent watching my chickens from my bedroom window. What was the point of that? Next time, I’d like to include some yoga, meditation and hiking.
2. Establish clear rules. Having some clear rules around what you will and won’t do during your experience is important. Is photography acceptable? What about other forms of art, like drawing or painting? What about journaling? I decided not to allow journaling or writing (with the exception of a single piece of paper, mostly because I wanted to be able to capture some of my thoughts about the process. But I chose to limit myself because I have a tendency to get lost for hours in projects and I didn’t want my day to be consumed by those activities. Next time, I might allot some time specifically for journaling at the end of they day, so I can summarize my thoughts.
3. Choose a location free of distractions. If you choose to do a silent retreat at home, just remember that there can be a lot of distractions. UPS makes deliveries, your home projects will be more noticeable (Oh look, I reallly need to repaint the baseboards!), and if you have pets, they won’t care about your personal journey to enlightenment. They just want to go outside. And then come back inside. And then go back outside again. For those reasons, a retreat center might have made it easier to unplug.
4. Spend at least 48 hours in silence. One day just wasn’t enough. It takes practice to be quiet, and just as I was starting to come down from the need to be “busy,” it was over. I now understand why so many retreats are multiple days long.
5. Have an emergency contact plan. Conducting a solo silent retreat can cause a little anxiety, especially if you have kids or are a caregiver. It’s difficult to be completely unavailable if someone is relying on you. The benefit of a retreat center is that they can act as your emergency contact, and only disturb you in the event of an actual emergency.
Silent retreats are periodic digital sabbaticals that help us move away from overdoing and overfunctioning so we can embrace and enjoy being. Am I glad I did it? Yes. Did I learn something from it? Absolutely. I think the biggest takeaway was that I know I’m capable of unplugging. It wasn’t actually as difficult as I imagined.
Have you ever tried a silent retreat or a digital detox? What was it like? Is there anything you’d do differently?