Solo Retreat #3: The Listener

soloretreat-listenerThe description read that there would be no talking permitted after dinner Friday evening until Sunday at lunch.

How could Betsy Harvey – me – BE QUIET for a weekend?

For this talker, I found this concept of silent retreat fascinating and intimidating – and let’s be honest – an awesome personal challenge for myself.

In Fall 2009, I had the opportunity to attend a silent retreat at Ignatius House, settled in the forest just above the Chattahoochee River. It was an opportunity for me to attend a women’s retreat, renew myself, and take a little time to reflect as a new wife and as a mother six months afterwards.

At first, it was so uncomfortable.

It wasn’t that I needed to talk to anyone in particular, but I think I might have needed to talk out loud to myself! No kidding.

Of course I missed sending an occasional text to my husband, but many good things come when we part from technology.  I appreciated him and many things, so much more.

As the noise of my thoughts and slightly nervous anticipation began to subside, my senses became more acutely aware: the heavenly smell of fresh baked cookies, the sound of the leaves brushing and crackling in the wind, the beams of sunlight stretching deep into the forest, and the awareness that everyone around me was connected even in our silence. 

We were connected not by speech, but by our hearts and souls – without ever speaking a word.

This first silent retreat became an experience that made me realize something about myself: I need quiet – and apparently a lot of it.

Honestly, I had no idea.

I had always been the one who could work a room or fearlessly engage in  numerous conversations. I was always “doing” and saying yes to too many things. Extroverted. Gregarious. Outgoing. These were just a few of the words that described me that always found noise or busy-ness wherever I could find it.

Then I went on this solo retreat and found deep power and discernment in silence.

The power of what I refer to as a listening retreat is that by quieting our voices and our need to  always tell our point of view in life, we become open to God’s point of view for our lives.

We become more open and ready to receive new information that may be guiding us to change something or become more of who we were created to be.

Quiet.

I was stunned to find out how much I needed it, and now I build it into my daily life as a non-negotiable part of my schedule. I have to build it strategically into my schedule.

Have you ever craved quiet?  Space where time slows down and you can just be? Answers to big question? Time to just be?

If you just heard a little or big yes to any of those questions, then silent retreat may be for you.  Whether it’s a formalized retreat at a retreat center, a day that you create, or a special time that you set aside, you may find that it tests your patience with yourself and you will hit a certain wall where you may want to give up…BUT…don’t give up.

That give-up moment (like so many tipping points in our individual lives) is when the magic of Divine silence is beginning to happen and make deep change.

That’s when the quiet becomes full of answers, awareness, and eventually (at least hopefully!) a silent symphony of peace.

If you’ve ever wanted to increase your prayer life, meditation practice, or just get clarity around something that’s weighing on your heart, silent retreat offers a growth experience that helps you stretch.  Rather, the Holy Spirit guides you.

Answers come. Peace settles in. True relaxation becomes real.

If silent retreat is something you’re interested in, here are some ways you can make it happen.

[Take action]

  1. Find a retreat center near you.  See what the offerings are and ask plenty of questions so there aren’t too many logistical surprises. (See Retreat Resources to the right.)
  2. Design your own silent retreat. Pick a place where you can make a solo retreat – designed by you. Choose what you’ll do and then vow to do it in silence.  Get unplugged. No technology unless it’s an emergency!
  3. Create a daily or weekly practice to unplug in silence.  Perhaps consider getting up before everyone else is up and commit that time to being quiet with God and yourself.
  4. Turn off your radio and phone when commuting. Listen to the hum of the wheels, escape in the scenery, and if you’re in traffic, see what your thoughts are saying instead.
  5. Take a nature walk.  This goes without saying. Every element in our body comes from the earth. Sometimes a quiet walk with God in nature reconnects us quietly to what we’re being called to do and we can often get big answers to our questions.
  6. Find your happy place and be quiet there.  If you have a special place, activity, or zone you go to, go there in quiet next time and see what happens.