A monk’s guide to silence

I had a phone call with my mentor Marion this week. She had written to me strongly advising that I didn’t attend a four-day silent retreat that I’d booked for September. She had a point. If I was driven half crazy by a Scouser in my head during 48 hours of silence, what would four days do to me?

Although I hated the last silent retreat, I can see now that it had enormous benefits. I felt emotionally wrung out in the days that followed and then I fell ill with a nasty migraine, but as I emerged from the fug, I had lots of realisations.

For a start, I found out that no matter how hellish the silent experience is, I still emerge from it with an open heart. I am more compassionate, kinder and calmer after a period of silence. It struck me that while my ego was screaming ‘I’m bored. Get me outta here!’ another part of me was quietly getting to work and cleansing my psyche.

It didn’t take long for me to decide that I want to go to the next retreat. What is the worst that could happen? It will either be better or worse than the last. However it pans out, I am convinced that it’ll do me good.

The venue will be different for a start. It’s bigger and is not affiliated to any religion. I’ll have an en-suite bathroom, which means I can splosh around in the tub at any hour without fear of disturbing anyone. It’s spacious too. There’s bound to be lots of space for practicing ballet moves and it’s in the Brecon Beacons so the walks will be stunning.

I really cannot guess how it will go. September is a long way away and if the past six months are anything to go by, I will be a different person by then.

Besides, what is four days between friends? I am reading a book at the moment by a guy who did a four-year silent retreat. He said it was both the best and worst thing that he has ever done. He’s a monk by the way, in case you were wondering. In his book A Monk’s Guide To Happiness he emerged from the marathon silence realising that his mind was bigger than his problems. And the voice in his head got kinder too. “I used to experience extreme levels of self-hatred and this has pretty much gone away,” he writes.

He also realised that “Deep down, we all have the potential to be truly happy.”

You don’t need to be a Buddhist monk to realise that he also concluded that nothing outside ourselves brings happiness, it’s all in the mind.

Clearly I have a long way to go. My mind is home to a belligerent Scouser, a harsh critic and the biggest pessimist on Earth. Now, if I could just shut them up, I might be onto something.


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