7 Unexpected, Life-Changing Things I Learnt on a Silent Retreat in Bali
What does it mean to be truly silent?
In true irony, when you are silent the world feels more alive. When you eat you feel the zing of the citrus as it hits your lip. When you listen, you hear all the layers: rustling leaves, chirping birds and running water. When you look, you notice the most minute movements, crawling insects and blades of grass swaying in the wind.
Bali Silent Retreat.
Last April in 2019, I decided to finally take the plunge and attend a silent retreat, not in Australia but Bali. I am so thankful for my experience as it taught me so much. Below I share 7 unexpected, life-changing things I learnt on a Silent Retreat in Bali.
01. Mindfulness isn't just sitting down, closing your eyes and crossing your legs.
Traditionally we think of meditating as the intentional act of taking a moment to close your eyes and sit down. However at the silent retreat, I practiced different wants of being mindful.
The silent retreat in Bali had a small labyrinth in the garden. It was so lovely as it also had stones with different words where you were able to take what you needed e.g. self love, joy, inner peace etc.
Unlike a maze, a labyrinth has only one way to the centre and one way out. I would repeatedly walk to the centre, pause and reflect then walk back out. As there is only one path to follow, you begin to be mindful as you don’t need to think about where to go or where the path will lead you. There is the freedom in the labyrinth to take your own path in silence.
You can create your own labyrinth of sorts, alternatively many labyrinths are out there. I unexpectedly found out that Centennial Park in Sydney where I live has one. Alternatively if you don’t have one near by, instead of going for a walk whilst listening to music or a podcast, try just walking!
There is something so heart warming about earthing. It feels like coming home. Earthing energetically reconnects you with the Earth, with nature. Simply stand on grass barefoot. When you are barefoot, free electrons flow between you and the Earth. Barefoot Healing Australia claim that “these electrons could be referred to as nature’s biggest antioxidants and help neutralise damaging excess free radicals that can lead to inflammation and disease in the body.”
Whether you believe that or not, there is something comforting about being free from the confines of socks and shoes. To feel your bare feet against the soft grass and dirt. Give it a try!
You can be mindful by simply observing and listening to the sounds that surround you.
At the silent retreat it was very still – I could hear the rustling of leaves, birds chirping, running water. Often these sounds become our background noise or we don’t pay attention because we are caught in our thoughts or listening to music.
Crying (hear me out...)
Peculiarly, at the Bali Silent Retreat there is a crying bench in the jungle by the running river. It seems odd, but made so much sense. Often we feel like we can’t or shouldn’t cry because we look weak, we don’t want other people to worry… The Crying Bench openly gave you permission to cry.
Crying can be a beautiful release and bring presence to how you are feeling physically and emotionally.
02. You experience more by doing less.
Often we fill up our days with so much being ‘busy’ that we don’t get to be present and enjoy what we are doing. When you strip away being busy, distractions you get to just be instead of do. This applies not only physically but mentally too.
When we are living our busy lives, our thoughts jump.
“I can only spend maximum an hour here or else I’ll be late for the next thing.”
“What do I have to buy from the shops again for dinner?”
“I wonder what Julia is doing right now?”
In silence, as life is simplified especially without technology, there is a greater opportunity to be. To get curious about your thoughts. To notice and observe your thoughts.
03. Being uncomfortable is not that bad, it always passes.
Being uncomfortable is a part of being human. Especially when you are you doing something you have never done before. Especially when you are are somewhere you have never been.
When you distill it down, being uncomfortable is a set of feelings. That is it. Nothing more, nothing less. I mean it’s not that bad is it? For a moment you feel uncomfortable and then it passes. The greater the discomfort, the greater your growth.
04. You realise you are the observer to your thoughts.
When you slow down and stay silent, the one constant you notice is your thoughts. Thoughts roll in and out constantly without your decision to. Your thoughts are involuntary. When you truly witness this, you realise that. It sounds so simple but it’s easy to forget or not even realise as when you are caught up so in busy, modern day life you aren’t always paying attention to the nature of your thoughts.
Your thoughts feel as if they are reality because they pop up in there… thoughts are not facts, they are just that… thoughts. You are the observer, it’s like watching clouds go by. Not only that you truly notice how many thoughts you have a day, it is known we have 60,000!
05. You rely on your phone more than you think.
Given I was going to go full cold turkey on speaking, I thought I would do the same with using my phone. I locked it up alongside my passport in the lockers available at the front of the retreat. Being away from my phone meant I was unable to keep in touch with friends at the touch of a button or to even check the time. Those are the obvious things one would expect when dithcing your phone.
I came to realise that I also used my phone to buffer. Buffering is something we do to keep us from experiencing our lives. We do it when we want to avoid feeling something or doing something. In this case, I realised that I used my phone often to avoid being in the moment with myself.
When I’m bored, I usually reach out for my phone and endlessly scroll.
When it’s silent, I usually reach out for my phone so I don’t feel awkward.
When I don’t want to focus on something within my thoughts, I reach out for my phone.
Without my phone, I had no buffer, no choice but to be at one with myself. To listen to my thoughts. To feel everything within my body. Whilst it was hard at first, I loved having the opportunity to disconnect from the external world and reconnect with myself within.
06. You can get to know someone without speaking to them.
There’s a classic saying, “the vibes don’t lie.” Even with words, people’s energy is palpable. You can feel when someone is sad and nursing a broken heart. You can feel when someone is at peace with themselves.
Further to that, you learn to really observe people’s mannerisms and movements. I found myself intrigued when I saw what someone had chosen to eat or what to read. As with observation it’s all in the eyes when you make eye contact with someone. The eyes truly are the window to the soul.
07. You can find love whilst being silent.
It’s true what they say, we fall in love with our hearts. On the final day of my retreat, we were went on a day excursion to Batu Karu temple. The beautiful template is known to be the source of all water in Bali and where locals make an annual pilgrimage each year in gratitude.
It is important to note here that outside the retreat, you are permitted to speak if you wish. Given it was my last day and I almost lost my passport, I ended up speaking to my group. This is how I met the lovely ‘E’. I had noticed her on the retreat, however as it was silent I did not speak to her. We became friends from this moment and kept in touch over Instagram.
My heart was filled with joy when she messaged me and I found out that she had met someone on the silent retreat! To this day she has moved overseas to be with her now husband and have they have the most gorgeous little boy together.
It just shows that love goes beyond physically speaking, it can be see with the eyes and felt with the heart. The small moments E and her husband got to speak (between large gaps of silence) went onto spark a beautiful love. So inspiring! Just shows you never know where or when you may meet the love of your life.
If you've always wanted to experience a silent retreat... you should do it!
It is one thing to read about it, another to experience it for yourself. I am so glad I got to stay a few nights at the Bali Silent Retreat. As you can see it taught me so much and now I truly savour silence. Silence is a great teacher.