By Kelly Bowers (TMF Documama)
October 30, 2000
I did something frightening, bold, and risky recently: I went on a five-day silent retreat.
It must be frightening, bold, and risky based on the responses I've gotten from people. "Oh my God, I could never do that!" was one. "I'd be bored silly," was another. Then there was "Oh, no, not me!" and "That's your idea of a vacation?"
People seem to be genuinely frightened at the idea of listening to the sounds inside their own head for more than a few minutes. Don't believe me? How many people can't even go running or biking without headphones? How many people get antsy if there isn't a TV or radio on at home?
I have a theory about this (not surpassing since I seem to have a theory about practically everything). I think many are afraid that if they sit and listen deeply to themselves they'll discover they've been living the wrong life! That, really, they shouldn't be an advertising manager, they should be a drummer! Or they shouldn't be programing Web pages, they should be saving the ozone layer! They're afraid that maybe, just maybe, they've made some very large mistakes and maybe, just maybe, they'd rather not know that.
If they're religious, they may also be afraid that God actually will speak to them! Holy writ is full of people who stopped to listen and got marching orders that no one really wants. I mean, do you want to give up a steady paycheck to lead a nation of irritable ex-slaves through the desert for 40 years?
But I'm here to tell you, silence ain't that bad. Oh, yeah, the first 24 hours were like going through stimulation withdrawal. I wasn't quite as jittery as a caffeine junkie going cold turkey, but it was close. Then I settled down. Read a lot, started moving more slowly, slept more than I have in, oh, forever. Went for long walks. Took time to cook decent dinners.
So, what happened? Nothing dramatic. I just re-remembered who I am. I had a chance to remember how I actually like to spend my time. I remembered who my favorite people really are. I remembered what my priorities are. None of this came as a surprise to me. More as a pleasant reaffirmation.
It's very easy to become a stimulation junkie. Computers and message boards. TVs, radios, CDs, and PDAs. Newspapers and magazines. Lattes, espressos, and plain ol' coffee. After a while, we can become people who aren't comfortable if our nervous systems aren't being twanged like a banjo. It just becomes so normal.
The danger is that if you don't have the chance every now and then to stop and remember who you are and what you value, you become susceptible to whoever is selling to you the loudest. Whether they're selling a lifestyle, a value system, or a mutual fund, if you haven't stopped recently to remember what you care about and what you're working for, you become vulnerable.
Take a day or five. Read a book. Have a nap. Watch the clouds change color as the sun sets. And remember.