Lessons Learned From My Adventure With Silent Blue-Haired Nuns

Don't be fooled -- these nuns are bad-ass. (In a spiritual way.)

The rules for the weekend were as follows:

  • Refrain from talking.
  • Respect the other particpants’ desire to refrain from talking
  • Every movement must be done slowly and mindfully. (Walking, eating, opening doors, turning pages in a book, etc.)
  • Refrain from using cell phones, iPods, and other electronic equipment.

Oh boy. What the heck had I gotten myself into?

Or at least that’s what the left hemisphere of my brain was thinking as I sat through the orientation of a 3-day silent retreat. The event was held at a huge estate and was facilitated by a bunch of smiley and warm Catholic nuns who, if forced to undergo carbon dating, would probably be identified as part of Earth’s first group of upright hominids.

However, the right hemisphere of my the brain (the hemisphere linked to spirituality, creativity, and holistic thinking), was excited about the silent adventure I had signed up for. This was to be a voyage into the unknown, an experiment with discomfort, an immersion into a unique subculture, a moment of grace, and an honest look at the true state of my mind, body, and spirit (which were in pretty crappy condition at the time).

3 Whole Days of Awesome

The nun who was doing most of the facilitation that weekend had hair with a blue tint to it. It was the kind of white hair that is in its final stage of whiteness: it can’t get any whiter so it has nowhere left to go but blue.

Every few hours throughout the retreat, the 30 or so participants gathered into a circle while the blue-haired nun spoke a few powerful and profound spiritual thoughts. We sat on the edge of our seats as we listened, hanging on her every word, pretending like we didn’t just have the wind knocked out of us by her insight.

In between these short sessions, we were free to silently roam the estate. I meditated by the lake, strolled through the surrounding woods, browsed the library, wandered through the mansion, and laid out with a blanket in a field surrounded by butterflies and the Spring sunshine.

The retreat was designed to help quiet my mind of its usual anxiety, self-doubt, depression and confusion. It removed the mental noise. It provided space for me to commune with something greater than myself.

Silence: The Superpower of the Average Joe

The 3 days of silence, meditation and rest rocked my world. But what surprised me was how long it took to quiet my mind. In fact, it wasn’t until the third and final day of the retreat that my head was clear, present, calm, strong and ready to receive.

Our thoughts dictate how we feel during any given day, and those feelings dictate our actions. Our lives are ruled by the words we don’t say. We are slaves to our worries and fears, and to the sad stories that play on repeat in our minds. We tell ourselves tales of how terrible we are and how terrible others are for causing our pain.

But if when we are freed from these chains we can accomplish difficult tasks and live out impossible dreams. We can have all the things we need in life while helping others have their needs met, too.

I will never have cool superpowers. But having a quiet mind, a humble heart, and open arms is just as good.

Silence Works Better Than Weight Watchers

The most immediate impact that silence had on me was the way I ate throughout the retreat.

I have always struggled with overeating. I eat when I’m angry, sad, bored and restless; food helps to block out those unwanted feelings. I eat when I’m tired so that I can stay awake. I eat while I watch TV because it makes it more fun. I eat when other people eat, even when I’m not hungry, just because it feels good to bond over pizza, wash it down with some ice cream, and slip into a carb coma. I eat unconsciously.

But as I ate silently and mindfully at the retreat, my head was free of the thoughts that usually control my eating habits. Instead, I was focused on my body and the rumbling of my stomach. I ate when was hungry and I stopped when I wasn’t. (What a novel idea!)

No counting calories. No thoughts about weight loss goals. No worries about whether I was eating a balanced meal. I simply listened to my body. And when you listen to your body’s natural cravings (as opposed to you emotions’ irrational demands), you gravitate toward healthy, balanced eating.

That weekend I also ate with gratitude and focus. I enjoyed the flavors and colors of my food. I was grateful for the hands that grew the vegetables and grains, and for the people who packaged and transported them. I was grateful for the retreat house chefs who so kindly prepared special meals for me as the only vegetarian in the group.

Suddenly food brought me joy. But this time, it wasn’t because it could take painful feelings away or enhance the good ones. It was because the food gave my body the nourishment it needed to handle all of my feelings. I had never eaten so little in a single weekend, yet I had never felt so full.

During one meal I looked to my left and saw the blue-haired nun walking slowly, prayerfully and mindfully to her cafeteria table…holding a big-ass ice cream sundae with sprinkles on top.

That made me happy too.

The Definition of Adventure

In the title of this post I referred to the silent religious retreat as an adventure. And while it wasn’t skydiving, camping in Africa, or some other adventurous thing I’ve done in the past, it was an experience that belongs in the same category. That’s because adventure is anything that begins with openness and courage, and ends with personal growth.

So if you’re ever feeling brave enough to get an honest look at who you are and who you could be, try a silent retreat. It could be a wild ride.

 

Your Turn: What would happen if you turned off the noise in your head? What would happen if you listened instead of talked?

 

Photo Credit

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22 Responses to Lessons Learned From My Adventure With Silent Blue-Haired Nuns

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  3. L. David Ryals says:

    I enjoyed reading this very much! Thank you for writing and sharing it.

  4. Mary-Beth says:

    I too went on a three-day silent retreat. The first day and a half I cried. It was the first time I was able and allowed to just cry, to let tears flow, joyful tears, sad tears, painful tears. To get beyond the noise and just be…it was blissful. Your story takes me back there. Thank you for sharing this.

    • Kimberly Eclipse says:

      Hi Mary-Beth! Thank you for stopping by and for sharing a bit of your moving experience. Silence gives us direct access to our inner voice and buried feelings. I’m so glad you enjoyed the opportunity to spend time with yours. :)

  5. Wow. That sounds amazing. I’m not catholic, but I am Christian and the idea of turning off my voice for a whole three days (especially as a teenager in a house full of children) sounds awesome. At the very least, an exciting expiriment.

    I’ll have to try this out, in my day to day life. It reminds me of the scripture “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger”. I’m interested in how I’ll interact with my parents and siblings like this. :) Thanks for the wonderful idea.

    • Kimberly Eclipse says:

      Hi Renee! Thanks for stopping by. Yes, it’s always interesting to see how mindfulness and spirit-led silence can influence your day-to-day interactions with people, including family.

      By the way, I just hopped on over to your blog. LOVE it!!! You’re officially in my Google Reader. :)

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  7. Allie says:

    For me I find this through hiking and camping and backpacking. You throw yourself out of the routine and into the wilderness and actually use your body (rather than sit in front of a computer all day!) and this deep inner peace results – you actually experience the stillness surrounding you and are mindful of what is going on around you. And the PB&J on pita washed down with water you just filter from the lake is the most amazing meal you’ve ever had…

    • Kimberly Eclipse says:

      Ooh. Yes. Hiking. If it weren’t for the fact that the movie The Blair Witch Project scarred me for life, I’d totally be hiking all the time and enjoying the stillness, the nature and the pita. (I don’t know about the lake water though!)

  8. Luv this post. For me, silence (especially the absence of noise) is healing. Not only am I able to clear my mind, but I find it so much easier to become attuned to the universe(s) (and at times, I think, to the God of those universes). In the silence, I hear what I too often miss. And WHAT I HEAR IN THE SILENCE IS BEAUTIFUL.

    One also sees differently in the silence. We also see and reflect differently. All in all a great way to bring cleansing and blessed relief to body, mind and soul.

    • Kimberly Eclipse says:

      Agreed!

      And they make great vacations too. On the last day of a typical vacation I dread returning to the real world. But on the last day of a silent retreat (I’ve been to a few at this point), I feel invigorated, excited to get back in the “real world”, and inspired to tackle big challenges.

  9. Sheryl says:

    I’ve always been interested in (and a little bit scared of) silent retreats. I’m curious as to just what I’d get to. I’ve got one of those minds that’s always go-go-go, and it’s so hard to quiet all the buzz in there sometimes. It’s probably one of the reasons I can be so high strung sometimes.

    • Kimberly Eclipse says:

      I hope you get a chance to experience one! I recommend going on a silent retreat when you have one particular challenge, trauma or frustration in your life that’s really screwing with your well-being. When you walk in with a specific intention it’s all the more powerful.

      • Sheryl says:

        Really? That’s a little counter intuitive to me … I’d almost think it would be harder. I’ve also got a little bit of Eat, Pray, Love in my head saying that you can’t go to the ashram too soon after a trauma though, and that’s a little bit different.

        It is something I do really want to do at some point, though.

        • Kimberly Eclipse says:

          Ooh, I LOVE that book!! I cried at the end of it because I didn’t want it to be over, hehe. (What can I say, I’m not great with goodbyes!)

          Right, you can’t go to a silent retreat or ashram too early. After experiencing trauma myself, I learned that you’ve really got to take the time to fight it out in your head and heart for a bit. A silent retreat is best AT LEAST a year after the trauma when you’ve exhausted all other modes of healing (the kind that involve a lot of doing) and you’re still searching for deeper healing (the kind that involves receiving/ acceptance).

          • Sheryl says:

            I adore her writing. That book’s a special favourite because my mom sent it home with Bunny in a care package when I was sick. :)

            That distinction about the timing makes a lot of sense. It’s like going in with a challenge that’s not too raw with the intention of allowing yourself to work through it. My mind jumped the gun a bit there.

  10. KMD says:

    I like what you said about being “slaves to our worries and fears, and to the sad stories that play on repeat in our minds”. Would you think the same can be said for regret?

    I feel that if I were to turn of the ‘white noise’ that clouds up my thoughts sometimes, I feel that I could learn a lot more about other people. I wouldn’t distress myself so much with imaginings, to quote Desiderata. I’ve gotten better at the latter part bit by bit.

    • Kimberly Eclipse says:

      Oh yeah, regret can be dangerous. Not always (I have 2 regrets in my life but boy did I learn a lot from them!). But dangerous regret is the kind that plays on repeat and makes you miserable — a worse person for it, in fact.

      I just looked up the quote you referenced. How beautiful!…

      “Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly, and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story. Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love – for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment is it perennial as the grass. Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you from misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.”

      ― Max Ehrmann, Desiderata: A Poem for a Way of Life

      • KMD says:

        I’m glad you learned from them. I try not to dwell too much on my regrets. And yeah, replaying regret(s) in your head is dangerous and just puts you down further.

        I’m so happy you liked Desiderata! :) :)

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