The Silent Retreat: Five Reasons Why I Love It

By Colleen Leonardi

On the occasion of my first silent retreat with Yoga on High, days before I packed my things and headed to Grailville, I found the following quote by writer Ann Morrow Lindbergh: “Solitude, says the moon shell. Every person, especially every women, should be alone sometime during the year, some part of each week, and each day.”

I took it to be a sign. Perhaps I did have the courage to weather five-days of silence, even if it felt daunting and unfamiliar. And perhaps that bravery trickling through me was fashioned to a much larger weave of running wisdom—a sage river a lot of us must step into to honor our self and sense of balance in the world. I realized I was on the edge of an experience much larger than me. And this made me very excited.

I share these reflections because if you’re reading this, chances are you’re considering attending Yoga on High’s silent retreat this year, or perhaps you’re already signed up, which suggests to me a curiosity and questioning of what it’s all about. And what I can say, not seeing you as you read or knowing your thoughts as you scan the lines, is that it will be about you. In my experience, retreats are about you and what you bring to them. So I might suggest, then, that the curiosity becomes about what you’re all about. And I think this is a very luscious, loving place to be—a place that Yoga on High knows how to support and cultivate in such a smart, compassionate way.

And since I so deeply value the decision to take this time for yourself (and take it you must!) and the women at YoHi who make space for you to retreat in this way, I can only share what was true for me as I write. You will certainly find your own truth in going.

There are few things I love with such conviction in this world: my family, my art, nature, and my yoga practice. I stand by these things because they unravel and comfort my heart—they challenge and change me on a cellular level. This silent retreat and the way Marcia, Linda and Martha lead it makes my list, in spades. And I’ll give you five reasons why:

| Silence heals. It does. I did bring with me the intention, on both retreats, to sit with and heal some wounds, pains in me that needed my attention. And at first my fear of the silence overrode my ability to sit and be. But that knowing kicked in and silence became a way of being. It was so familiar. I realized I’d been scared of myself, and closing the doors of outward communication to open the door on me became such a gift.

| A regular yoga practice rocks. The structure of the retreat is such that you are fully supported all day by a routine and encouraged to take time for you, whenever you need it. Waking at the crack of dawn to practice pranayama, then moving right into a yoga practice, eating, walking on the trail at Grailville, napping, doing more yoga, and eating lunch. Well, you get the idea. It’s so healthy and rigorous one begins to glow. I watched my compatriots at the retreat mellow into such a sweet spot for themselves each day as we adjusted to going to bed early and waking early, taking time in the day to write in our journals and practicing yoga in all ways all day. There is a logic behind the regularity, one that my body and mind fell in love with and began to crave as the days passed.

| This is the season. This turning of winter to spring is a rich period. The Earth is coming alive, buds breaking out on the trees, birds singing, the light changing. Grailville as a center for retreats is a beautiful, peaceful swath of land. I find resting and rejuvenating with nature at this time of year to be the perfect moment to reset for the year ahead. Yes, New Year’s is when we make our resolutions, but it’s in spring that the Earth comes alive, and us with it. And to be rested and grounded in you for this awakening… well, it’s simply wonderful. And we all deserve wonderful, I say.

| The most beautiful thing. One of my realizations at the end of the first retreat was that I’d been witness to some of the most beautiful moments, ever. Everyone in attendance offers such compassion to the space. A collective effort begins to build to heal, nourish, restore, enjoy, and rest. The energy off this effort stirs up pure loveliness. Most of it has to do, for me, with being present. Slowing down and inviting silence opens up so many other windows for you to see, hear, taste, smell, feel the world. Magic means something. The way the light slides through your view and then a shadow of a friend appearing on the ground can become the most beautiful thing you’ve witnessed in a while. Grace happens.

| You matter more. It has taken me quite some time to realize this, but returning to the retreat each year always drives it home. To be present for myself means I can be present with others. I can return to my home and my family and give them the gift of presence. I can return to my community and be present with them. I do believe one needs to water the inner well as well as the outer well because YOU matter first and foremost. You may not feel like you have the time, the resources to take the retreat this year. And that’s when you must know that you truly need it most. By saying I matter, I’m saying you matter. To give to myself—to commit to the intention to heal myself, slow down and listen—I commit to being in the world with my head on my shoulders and my heart in each step.

And with that, I hope you take the step and join the retreat this year. And one last thing for your journey into the question of you—the remainder of the quote by Lindbergh:

“What is the answer? There is no easy answer, no complete answer. I have only clues, shells from the sea. The bare beauty of the channeled whelk tells me that one answer, and perhaps a first step, is in simplification of life, in cutting out some of the distractions. But how? Total retirement is not possible. I cannot shed my responsibilities. I cannot permanently inhabit a desert island. I cannot be a nun in the midst of a family life. I would not want to be. The solution for me, surely, is neither in total renunciation of the world, nor in total acceptance of it. I must find a balance somewhere, or an alternating rhythm between these two extremes; a swinging of the pendulum between solitude and communion, between retreat and return. In my periods of retreat, perhaps I can learn something to carry back into my worldly life, as a beginning. I can follow this superficial clue, and see where it leads. Here, I can try.”

~Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gifts from the Sea