meditation · self care

Have you unplugged lately? Tracy’s at-home silent retreat

The last time we polled readers about what kind of content we could do more (or less) of, someone requested more on things like meditation and rest. We have posted a few things about meditation (there is this and this and this and this) and more than one of us has found it to be beneficial. I have had meditation as a part of my life since graduate school, when I bought myself a copy of a book called The Joy within in the hopes of finding some peace. It helped, even though it was really hard at that time even to sit quietly, in silence for five minutes.

And that was before the internet. Before cell phones. Before streaming. Before “devices.” So few people had email back then that it was exciting to get a message (can you even remember those days?).

This past weekend I decided that I needed some silence. I usually enjoy silent retreats with a focus on meditation, but I won’t be able to do anything remotely like that any time soon. So when I noticed a couple of weeks ago that this past Friday night and Saturday were clear in my calendar, I blocked them off for a silent home retreat: 24 hours.

The first challenge was to keep them clear. How easy it is to allow things to seep into that open space in a schedule? It’s like a vacuum that wants to suck commitments into its void. But I did it.

The second challenge was to define my boundaries. I often listen to music at home. But if I was going for silence, then there could be none of that. Ultimately I made a list of what I could and could not do.

Permitted: meditation, cooking, reading (but not for work-only books related to meditation and spiritual practice), adult colouring (I have an adult colouring book I love), knitting (never got around to it), journalling, walking or running outside (alone, no music), naps, baths, photography (but no editing)

Not permitted: devices, communication, work.

I came home from my workout on Friday after picking up a new artwork, a lovely painting called “One Can Always Tango” by my talented friend Kim Kaitell. The firs thing I did was hang that painting with some music playing in the background because it wasn’t quite 7 yet and I wanted to be able to admire it on my retreat.

Image description: A textured canvas painting, dark in the lower half and light in the upper half, with three large red circles (grapefruit moons) and the silhouette of three birds, two standing in front of two of the moons and one off to the left side. Title: One Can Always Tango by Kim Kaitell.

I finished that (which promised to be a bit more work than I’d planned because I put a hanging wire on the painting and needed plugs in the wall, so it required the drill and all manner of measurements and so forth…but by 6:58 the painting was up, the music was off, and the phone was in my bedroom night table drawer on airplane mode without wifi).

If you have a busy life with lots of activity in it, it’s tough just to stop–or at least that is my experience. So I started cooking. Chopping veggies is kind of meditative for me, so I grabbed a rutabaga and a squash, neither an easy subject to tackle on a cutting board, and my favourite heavy knife, and spent the first 30 minutes of my silent retreat prepping them to roast in the oven. I had some lentils and rice simmering on the stove at the same time. And when I opened the veggie drawer in my fridge, I found some portobello mushrooms that needed attention and got it in the form of sauteed portobellos with a soy-maple glaze. Okay, so dinner was on its way. While I waited for everything to cook, I snapped a few pictures of fresh flowers, one of my favourite photo subjects.

Next up: mindful eating.

By the time I finished dinner, it was already almost 9. Still not ready to sit quietly in meditation, I took out my adult colouring book. I’m not artistic but I absolutely adore colour. I started a page that said: “Today is going to be awesome” with full confidence that it contained an accurate prediction about tomorrow.

Image description: Coloured-in page from an adult colouring book. In the middle it says in handwritten block letters “TODAY IS GOING TO BE AWESOME” and that is framed by a swirling abstract floral pattern.

Without belabouring every moment, I can tell you that it was the best thing I’ve done for myself this month. By the end of the first evening, my mind had quieted. It felt good to go to bed (after a leisurely soak in the tub) without having to set an alarm. I almost always have a Saturday morning yoga commitment and Sunday run, so there is rarely a day when I don’t need to get up for something. I lay in bed that Saturday and just luxuriated for a little longer than normal.

Then I got up and sat in meditation for 30 minutes and followed that with some candid and much-needed journalling. I didn’t do a whole lot of anything that day — a bit more colouring, a bit more photography, some reading, several timed meditation sessions, a 30-minute run. I’d wanted a nap but I think by the afternoon my mind felt so quiet and I was at peace and feeling rested, so I didn’t feel the need. And that was after less than 24 hours.

Image description: Two orange flowers in the foreground and one blurred in the background, against a further blurry (bokeh) light background.

By the time the clock was approaching 7 p.m. (and I did have a 7 p.m. commitment), I was so into my retreat that I didn’t want it to end. But I did one more meditation, a bit of journalling on my experience, silently expressed gratitude for the opportunity, and left the house to celebrate an occasion with friends.

If you think you’d like to try this, just google “planning a home silent retreat” or something like that and a few articles will come up. I used “How to Create An Amazing Silent Retreat at Home” as my rough guide. The whole thing felt like a loving thing to do for myself and I will be doing it again.

Have you ever retreated silently at home?

13 thoughts on “Have you unplugged lately? Tracy’s at-home silent retreat

  1. Thank you for this detailed and lovely sharing of your experience — I felt restful just reading it. And it made me sad that I can’t have flowers anymore because of the cats! (The little one shreds and eats them, which is dangerous for kitties).

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    1. Me too. But it also made me realize I could never do this! Not just kids etc but also Cheddar! I’m not sure how he’d be in silence. I talk to him all the time.

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      1. But maybe you wouldn’t even like to do it, Sam. It’s not a thing that everyone craves or needs. But it’s also not a thing with strict rules. Tailor it to suit yourself. Some people might run spa music in the background. Others might take out other distractions that I allowed, like the colouring or reading. I have applied to do a ten-day silent retreat in the summer that doesn’t allow devices, books, journals, or anything other than meditation and silence (other than an evening lecture each night). So mine was pretty permissive in that context, pretty restrictive in other contexts.

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      2. I like the idea of making your own rules. I’d definitely include talking to the dog. Need it? Not sure. It is a thing I’ve rarely ever had. There’s only been a half dozen times in my life I think that I’ve been alone in my own house. It feels positively luxurious. But I play my own music, sing, dance and eat cereal for dinner. I sometimes imagine that’s what living on my own would be like. But then I realize I’d get all adult about it if it were a regular thing.

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    1. I don’t know. Maybe because a lot of the designs are a bit complicated for kids. And maybe because a lot of them are framed as being for stress-relief (which let’s hope kids don’t yet need so much). Or maybe it’s just the content — kids aren’t perhaps as excited about mandalas and flowers as I am lol.

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  2. As an introvert, these kinds of days are essential to my repair and restoration. I LOVE being quiet! I am still navigating how to find that time with a lovely, and extroverted, husband who wants to share every moment . . . less quietly! Saturday, he is gone all day with a friend. I might just use your entry as a template to build my own wonderful, restorative day! Thank you for sharing.

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    1. My partner and I used to have these things called “personal days” where you could request to be left alone, in silence, and do your own thing for a certain number of hours until a prescribed time. It really helped us get that introvert recharge, especially when sailing and unable to physically retreat from each other on the boat. But yes, your Saturday sounds like a perfect opportunity! Good luck planning and living your day of silence, Marjorie. Please report back if you get a chance.

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