(Note that I would have loved to provide you with more photos, but for reasons discussed in this post, my phone was only on during arrival and departure).
For years, my husband has been encouraging me to get away. You see, he’s a “guys kind of guy”, living for reunion weekends and golf trips away with friends and clients. Me, on the other hand? I take after my mother. I want to be right here at the command center. Handing over the four boys usually includes me asking the hubs to leave work early for pick up, lots of sitter time, and a significant amount of planning. Honestly, it’s just not worth it to me. THAT IS, until I decided to check off a long anticipated activity from my bucket list. And get this overflowing brain to a two day silent meditation retreat at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health.
As I’ve mentioned before… covid and my return to full time work came hand in hand. And I felt very full, very fast. A large contributor to this feeling is the noise level within my very own household. I grew up in a crazy, loud house of 7, so this shouldn’t be new to me. That year of us all being under one roof, just as the big boys began forming opinions and the little one found his voice, brought the household volume to record decibels. (Not to mention the little on is THE. LOUDEST. HUMAN. CREATED.) So when I found that Kripalu had several forms of silent retreats, I refreshed the website hundreds of times until one appeared that worked with our schedule.
ARRIVING AT KRIPALU
Kripalu was founded over 50 years ago in the Berkshire Mountains, just over an hour from Saratoga Springs. This was my first time at Kripalu. The “Center for Yoga and Health” is really a center for everything mind, body and spirit. WITH, tuition being on a sliding scale for those who can’t afford it. (It’s sounding very similar to the SRYMCA mission I work so hard for when I’m home, right?) For those also new to the Kripalu model, you may choose to come for their self-guided classes, or an instructor-led program on a variety of topics including yoga, meditation, spirituality and more. Really, everything personal reflection and transformation. People, this is my gig.
The silent retreat was structured as a series of short lectures and instruction, followed by students then using the instruction and tools in different forms. Although I’ve been doing short, guided meditations fairly consistently these last few years, I loved that the program was really geared towards people with ALL levels of meditation experience. We weren’t always in session, but we were expected to keep our silence, and off of technology. We wore special nametags so that others on campus would know we’re in silence. We also had access to both a silent cafeteria and meditation room to support our efforts. And although there are technology rooms at Kripalu for phone or computer usage, we were asked by our instructor to do our best keeping them off during this retreat.
DIVERSE BACKGROUNDS BUT COMMON NEEDS
Before we all entered into our silence, we were guided through an activity that allowed us to hear both our fellow classmates’ voices, and their reasons for attending. I was not surprised at the variety of responses and common themes. Several were there after years of wearing themselves ragged during covid and taking care of others. Many mentioned that they needed a break from technology. Several attendees shared that they were in high-pressure jobs that stretched them too thin. A few people were there to grieve the loss of a loved one. A few moms were there to get a break from busy lives with littles. And a few mentioned that they wanted to carve out time to be grateful. I found myself nodding as we went around the room, relating to some sliver of each of their stories, which collectively made up my own.
The main purpose of a silent retreat is to take away as many of life’s distractions as possible, causing you to turn inward and reflect. One of my main issues with these smart phones is that they take up every moment of quiet in my mind. Feeling bored for a second in line at the grocer? I grab my phone. Waiting for my kids? I check the weather or scroll IG. We (both our children and ourselves) have almost no moments where we are alone with our thoughts. This is dangerous. At a silent retreat (or during meditation), these thoughts bubble to the surface. Someone commented “When I clear and take a break from all this stuff, I’m nervous I’m going to not like what I find.” So as you can imagine, the experience was very emotional for many who had been avoiding uncomfortable thoughts for much too long.
THE SILENT RETREAT PROCESS AT KRIPALU
While in silence over the two days, we were led through a variety of different types of meditations, from sitting, to lying, to walking. We did some light yoga, with the option of taking more advanced yoga classes during our breaks. The instructor would give us journaling prompts throughout, that were aligned with where we were in the silent reflection process. We were expected to keep that “connection to ourselves” throughout our break times through use of the gorgeous outdoor campus or variety of quiet rooms throughout the facility. Understanding that some may have to get on a device to check in with someone or something, she highly encouraged computers and phones to be put away for the weekend. She asked us to be mindful of what we’re reading. I CAN DO THIS, I thought.
And I did, but it was tough. My biggest challenge was not letting the “To-Do” list go wild in my brain, and having to bring my mind back to center. It’s rare that I take this time away from kids and work, so you can imagine everything going through my brain that I “need to do” as soon as that computer powered back up. I absolutely felt a void, caused by mindless habits I have formed. So many times throughout the weekend, I would look for my phone to check social media. Check the weather. See a photo of my kids (I cheated on that one). Look for my phone in my bag, only to realized I intentionally left it in the room. So many things that I do that are formed out of habits versus true intention. I confess, I did turn my phone on to make sure everyone was alright at home. And wanting to check only that, I’d mindlessly be looking for the email icon. On autopilot, without even thinking, I even responded to a quick text just by having it in my hand. WITHOUT EVEN INTENDING TO DO SO.
NOT YOUR TYPICAL CAFETERIA
I was a bit surprised at the amazing food in the Dining Hall at Kripalu. Picture your college cafeteria. Without the curly fries and dessert station. Every day a selection of locally-sourced greens, salad fixings, legumes, fresh breads, whole grains and lean proteins would come out. All prepared by their super talented chef, who focuses on eating high quality foods to nourish while infusing traditional Eastern flavors. You didn’t find anything sweet in that buffet, with the exception of a naturally sweetened berry scone or fruit crisp.
So as you can imagine, when you have nothing to do, no where to go and no one to talk to, you live for those meal times. As our instructor would share before every meal, “Walk the perimeter of the buffet, and choose the things that you feel will most nourish you right now. EAT WITH INTENTION.”
CLASS THEMES AND TAKE-AWAYS
At the conclusion of the retreat, we came out of our silence. In our last hour together, we did an activity where we shared bits of our experiences, and what we learned from our silence. This was a very emotional activity for many (myself included). The silence did just what the instructor said it would: it caused people to confront thoughts and feelings that they had been burying with busyness. Technology continued to be a HUGE theme, with most classmates mentioning the “freedom” they felt when they turned the phone off. And many mentioning how, specifically, they will take this learning back home.
And I bet you’re wondering what MY big revelation was, right? It’s kind of ironic. I went with the intention of getting some peace and quiet, and a short break from the craziness of home. I left with the intention of spending even more time with my rowdy clan. In that quiet space, it became crystal clear that I really do over commit. And that I constantly let work overflow into life. And that I will put devices away for certain periods of the day to focus on the monsters. I will be more present.
There is just so much power in human connection, a philosophy of Swami Kripalu which created the foundation for the Kripalu Center and teachings, and something I’ve always believed in. We live in a present day world where we must intentionally disconnect to become more connected. That will look different for each person. I chose to “check out” at Kripalu, an environment making it very easy to do so. I feel that each one of us can find our own way to quiet our minds, and reconnect with the world and people around us. I have dedicated to making a few small tweaks at home to accomplish this. That is, while I craft a plan to get to Kripalu’s 5 day silent retreat next year.