reflection, wellbeing

How To Do A Silent Retreat At Home

Have you ever considered participating in a silent retreat? Think you need to pack your bags and head off to a zen center or the middle of the woods? You can absolutely do a silent retreat at home. Just a few adjustments to your environment (i.e., turning off all technology) and a plan for the day are all you need. The main rule: No speaking! Here’s the schedule I followed during my own homemade silent retreat. 🤫  🧘🏼‍♀️

7:30: Meditation

My alarm goes off. Forcing my eyes open, I remember I’m still on winter vacation from work. However, today is different. Today I have an agenda full of purpose. Sleepily drag myself out of bed, head straight to the living room and start my day. I set my watch for 25 minutes, close my eyes and start breathing deeply. It’s hard to let go of the thoughts of all the people who might want to contact me today but can’t because I’ve turned off my phone and computer. The urge to check my phone comes and goes, along with a flood of other thoughts: has anyone I’ve seen recently caught Covid? Should I update Facebook? Do I feel okay? Why did so-and-so do that thing they did? Will I really be able to spend the whole day not speaking at all?? It seems like right now, every single person I know is coming to my mind. Go away, everyone! I try to return to my breathing. Counting my breaths helps me focus a little bit better. My watch buzzes and tells me I’ve finished my first meditation.

8:00: Breakfast

Head to the kitchen to make breakfast. The same as usual. Heat water for tea, pour oats in a bowl, add soy milk, put it in the microwave 2 minutes. No need to rush today – on my normal mornings, I spend the 2 microwave minutes frantically putting dishes away and getting ready for work. Today I just wait. Add that heaping tablespoon of peanut butter and a dash of cinnamon to my oatmeal and stir. Wait a little more. Take my mug and bowl to the table in the living room, and savor the warmth of my oatmeal. Sip my green tea slowly, really noticing its complex cherry blossom flavors.

9:00: Meditation

It’s time for a second round of meditation. This time I set my watch for 30 minutes. How will I ever get through half an hour? Actually, things are a little quieter in my mind now. I do wonder how to get songs out of my head. Music is the one thing that I absolutely never manage to silence. If I manage to stop one song, another one appears. I try to visualize turning off a radio. It works for a couple of minutes, and before I know it, the song has snuck right back in again. Breathe. I find myself pondering JavaScript and thinking about how I need to create a file for my website. Before I know it, the 30 minutes is over and I haven’t thought nearly as much as the last time. I take my time to get dressed, brush my teeth.

9:30: Mindful Chores

I spend half an hour doing some chores around the house. Make the bed, wash the breakfast dishes, clean the floors. I try to be mindful while I’m cleaning. The feel of the cotton sheets, the warm water, the smell of the cleaning solution, and the satisfaction of having clean floors.

10:00: Walk

I’m out the door for a mindful walk in Parque Grande. I’ve left my phone behind because I won’t be looking at it or even turning it on at all. This makes me feel nervous. What if something happens and I need to call someone? I won’t be able to track my walk on Strava. Within a few minutes, I’ve forgotten about my phone worries and pay attention to the cold morning air, the blue sky, and the trees. The only things that come to mind are music, imaginary conversations, and judging. I notice I’m judging the behavior of others a bit harshly. I realize I’d like to be kinder in my thoughts. I ask myself if I need to make a little space in my life for more love and kindness.

11:00: Snack, Journaling, Reading

Coming in from the walk, I have a light snack and do some journaling. It helps to write down what I’ve been thinking about this morning. After that, I grab the book I’m reading, Atomic Habits by James Clear. It seems like the perfect book to read on a day like this. The author writes about becoming a person who ____. Deciding the kind of person you want to become, and aligning your habits to move you in that direction.

12:00: Meditation

It’s time for a third round of 30-minute meditation. This time I sit on my bed, to change my posture a bit. I let the ideas from Atomic Habits swirl around in my mind. I’m quite relaxed this time. At one point I’m transported to the Mediterranean Sea in Almería where I’m snorkeling in the clear water. Thinking about becoming the kind of person who exercises daily, reads, writes, creates, is kind, and saves money. To be fair, I think I already am this kind of person, it just helps to reinforce the idea. At 12:30 I stop and make some more notes in my journal.

1:00: Mindful Cooking

Bringing my attention back to home and chores and cooking. I’m pleased with how clean everything is. After a little more organizing, it’s time to prepare some lunch. I gather the ingredients for a vegetable stir fry with peanut sauce. Chop and sauté the vegetables, boil the water, cook the rice noodles, and combine everything with the delicious Sriracha-infused peanut coconut sauce. (Here’s the recipe if you’re interested!)

2:00: Lunch

Sit down for a nice lunch, no TV or phone to distract me. I take my time to enjoy all the flavors and feel gratitude for tasty recipes and inexpensive groceries. After lunch, I wash up and do a little more reading, ending with a light siesta.

3:00: Walk

After the refreshing siesta, the next thing on the agenda is another walk. I go back to the same park but take a different route. This time it takes a lot longer to notice I’m not carrying my phone. I’m also noticing kinder thought patterns and a few fond memories of people I used to live with. I let my mind wander to travel ideas – what about Estonia and Lithuania? They seem like nice places to visit. I notice how my mind is clearer now, less busy, thoughts and ideas are coming one at a time and much more slowly.

4:00: Afternoon Tea and Journaling

It’s tea time! I put on the kettle and pour myself a pot of tea in my favorite orange ceramic teapot. It’s an herbal blend that’s both floral and fruity. After warming up my insides and breathing in the aromatic steam, I do a little more journaling.

5:00: Reading

Another reading hour is on the agenda. I’m still working on Atomic Habits, and I learn a few more tips for how to set up and keep good habits, and why. My reading is more focused than usual. Not getting distracted by thoughts of other things like work or plans. I’m really absorbed in this book.

6:00: Meditation

It’s the fourth and final meditation round of the day, another 30 minutes. This time I was transported back to my childhood living room, so clearly I actually thought I was there for a minute. I remembered a kitten I almost adopted. Nearing the end of the 30 minutes, I find my body getting a little restless, which surprises me. But I have been sitting in this cross-legged posture quite a bit today. Once the time is up, I reflect a bit more on how I feel about being away from technology for a full day. I imagine who I might have messages from, but I also notice I don’t have so many urges to check. I wonder if I can keep the no-technology thing going for another day, and I decide to leave my email alone until Sunday (3 more days).

7:00: Painting

I’m so glad I put painting on the schedule. Painting is something I’m not particularly good at, but I enjoy. Mixing colors, trying out different brushes, seeing what happens. Sometimes copying a picture or following a tutorial. Today as I can’t look for any pictures or tutorials, I’m just going to do whatever I feel like with acrylic paint. I end up making 3 paintings – one I’ll call “Almería Sunset”, one that’s a 3-dimensional box, and a rose to use up a lot of extra pink paint left over from my mixing. I won’t share these with anyone, but I feel good about releasing some creativity today.

8:00: Relax

It’s relaxing hour. I light a candle, fill the small bathtub with a bubble bath and completely relax. No music, but it’s okay. The sound of the water and the bubbles put me in a trance. After that, I give myself a facial massage with rosehip oil, noting the sweet smell and how soft and vibrant my skin feels. Put on pajamas and note how relaxed I feel all over.

8:30: Dinner

All clean and ready for dinner, I make myself the usual: a salad. No need to think too hard about dinner – something light and easy to digest. Lettuce, beets, radishes, apple, chives, and walnuts. I try to slow down and enjoy the textures and flavors, even though this one of my usual dinners.

9:00: Reading and Winding Down

One more hour of reading before bed. I’m starting to feel sleepy reading on the couch, so I take the book to bed and read in bed for a while. I’ve decided to make 10:00 “lights out” but I find I’m ready to sleep before that, so I do just that – after a quick realization that I’m feeling satisfied with how the day went, how easy it was to follow the schedule, and how I’d definitely like to do this again sometime.