Have you ever heard the silence between waves? That space, sometimes imperceptible, that happens when one wave breaks and the other has not yet started. A moment, like many others, that can only be perceived in complete silence.
I've been living by the sea for a month. An ever-changing sea, with low tide afternoons and nights of strong waves that break next to my window and keep me awake. The constant sound of the waves—and the silent space in between—anchors me to the present, and reminds me where I am. I arrived in Uluwatu in the middle of a lockdown, which turned into a month of alone time and long moments of silence. Being alone in a new place showed me new sides of loneliness and made me want to dive deep into myself, so I decided to do a three-day “silent retreat”.
“Silence is essential. We need silence, just as much as we need air, just as much as plants need light. If our minds are crowded with words and thoughts, there is no space for us.” - Thich Nhat Hanh
Last year I did a proper retreat at a yoga center in Oaxaca, with long hours of meditation, yoga classes and thirty other people. This time it's just me and the ocean. I don't have strict schedules or rules, just basic guidelines to keep me from external distractions: no phone, no reading, no music, and no talking. All I can do is write, so I write a lot. I want to ask myself deep questions and answer with total honesty, write answers that maybe I don’t yet know.
I also want to practice more meditation and have many mindful moments throughout the day. As I don’t have a determined time for meditation, I decide that at least I will meditate for the duration of a burning incense; once in the morning and again after sunset. Sometimes with my eyes closed and sometimes opened, making the smoke of incense or the sound of the waves, my object of meditation.
Today I enter the silence. I meditate more and I’m less distracted. At least I can tell when my mind starts to wander. I am more present and I enjoy more.
I spend the afternoon on the beach almost completely alone. Low tide turns the sea into tide pools and I sit there for hours. I also write for a while and paint watercolor mandalas, my new favorite form of meditation. I ask myself several questions and let the answers flow on my notebook.
I wake up tired to find that the monkey got in the cupboard again leaving a mess, which puts me in a bad mood. It is not the first time that a monkey “attack” drives my nervous system crazy. They have stolen my things and broken things in the kitchen several times before. But it is the first time that I can observe it from another perspective; what a great metaphor with my mind. In many spiritual philosophies, the mind is compared to a restless monkey that goes from one place to another. In this case, it is not a metaphor and it is not only one monkey. But that's the way the mind is, sometimes all thoughts come, like a pack of monkeys, stressing us or at least distracting us.
Today it is more difficult to meditate. My mind is more distracted and although it does not have external distractions, it maintains a constant internal dialogue, sometimes making no sense. Feeling that now there is more space to think, the mind throws at me all kinds thoughts, memories, to-do lists and plans; trains of thought that take me away from the moment. When I realize it, I return to the breath, over and over again. Today’s incense seems to last forever.
I go down to the beach at noon and spend hours observing everything much more than usual, paying more attention to details. Crabs scooping up sand, the movement of the clouds, the reflection of light in the water.
I discover little “pieces of magic" that are formed by the light through the bubbles that float in the sea. This type of gift comes from silence; slowing down, observing more and being able to see the magic in the little things.
After sunset, I light a small fire with wood that I collected during the day. I listen to it crackle, as I watch the day fade away with colors on the horizon.
Today just before I sit down to meditate, a monkey appeared outside my room and before reacting as I normally do (the other day one jumped on my window and I yelled so loud that even the neighbor came up to see if I was okay). Today I just breathe and I watch him until he leves. Maybe this days were useful after all.
It is my last day of silence and I enjoy it. I'm still aware of the small details and practicing presence, I keep asking myself questions and writing the answers. I have more clarity than before, without having received any message or "insight" out of the ordinary, other than confirming what at great gift silence is.
These days I discovered that in silence I can "live louder”, as if with higher definition. In silence I am more complete in the moment; with my whole body, mind and spirit witnessing it all. I can observe and enjoy more, and be more aware of the gift of existence.
“All the wonders of life are already here. They’re calling you. If you can listen to them, you will be able to stop running. What you need, what we all need, is silence. Stop the noise in your mind in order for the wondrous sounds of life to be heard. Then you can begin to live your life authentically and deeply.” - Thich Nhat Hanh
Silence can be amazing but it can also be challenging. There is no other way but inside and we have to face whatever is there. In silence it is more difficult to distract ourselves and it can be uncomfortable at times, but I prefer to face that discomfort than forget to be present in my own life. Easy to say after a few days like this, but I don't want to forget it, or wait to spend another three days in silence to integrate it into my life, so I wrote some reminders for myself, which I leave here in case it is something you also want to implement.
Spend time in silence during the day. It doesn't have to be three whole days, we can integrate conscious silence into our lives for a few minutes a day. Let go of all distractions and fully enter the moment, honoring what is happening in the present and within us.
Just breathe and observe. Even in silence, it's easy to get distracted by our constant inner dialogue. Consciously breathing, observing the details around and the sensations that we perceive, remind us that we are alive and that we are here.
Use nature as an object of meditation. Everything in nature is in constant motion. Paying attention to the flow of life and the presence of each of the elements, brings us to the present and shows us that we are part of everything that surrounds us.
"What about here?" Many times I find myself thinking about memories or making plans. When I realize that I am not really in the moment, I ask my mind “what about here?”, immediately redirecting my attention to what I can perceive here and now, instead of telling myself a story from the past or the future.
More life, less distraction. Coming out of the silence, I spent more time than usual on the phone, connected to social media, disconnected from reality. I noticed that I was more anxious and less present all day. I want use the phone less, set time limits for social media (and respect them!). I want to live less connected to the digital world and more connected to real life.