Experiences at a 7-day Silent Mindfulness Retreat

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Anneke Kirsten  |  Counselling Pychologist  |  Cape Town

October 19 2020

Ok, so a silent mindfulness retreat is not everyone’s idea of fun and typically invites great scepticism and apparent disbelief, such as “seriously babe, you mean like not speaking at all for seven days, as in not a single word? Who in their right mind would voluntarily do that? Anneke, I think you’re finally losing the plot here my girl!” You mean you don’t think I already have…bonus! Then, let me see if a week of silence can push me over the edge. Yes, I’m cocky. And yes, I looooove a challenge.

So, let’s be frank here, I’m not going to pretend to have dissimilar thought processes to my friends, and these were running front and centre as I rather unenthusiastically drove into the driveway of the retreat space that was going to be my “home” for the next seven long, potentially gruelling, “scares-the-crap-out-of-me-when-I-think-about-it” days.

I reluctantly climbed out the car, secretly wishing it was time to climb back in again and go home to…you know…that secure comfort zone where life is busy and things are predictable. As if…

The next seven days were going to reveal much…

So, what happens on a silent mindfulness retreat? At least, what went down at this one? Well, you pretty much meditate in silence for most of the day, alternating between sitting and walking, and waiting in anticipation (and here I’m referring quite literally to near desperate expectancy…at times bordering on edgy suspense) the sound of your teacher’s voice. Oh, and when you do, it lands like gold in the soul…effortlessly moulding into a beauty of extraordinary magnitude. The body surrenders, finally letting go in relief. Which begs the question, what the hell have I been doing during meditation then? Mmm…interesting. Even amusing. Depends how you choose to view it. I am, as yet, undecided.

Clearly, some of my fellow retreat-goers had no problem with the whole letting go thing. Hearing another body collapse to the ground in a heap of drowsy dead-weight is quite common, as is bearing testament to the odd exit of gas in the most unnoticeable way possible. And, it goes without saying, that there is no passing of judgment of course. There may be the passing of other things…but definitely not judgement. Since this is after all the marathon of meditation practice, the Comrades of silence and the fact that no one incurred serious injuries or threw in the towel at some stage is in my opinion, quite literally, miraculous. I sure came close.

I reckon what saved me was finding the humour and light-heartedness in the whole experience. One of my equally carefree retreat-goers unflinchingly proceeded into a jovial, sprightly skip during a walking meditation, all to the collective adoration and encouragement of us all. We could laugh! Yes, we were actually allowed to laugh. I’m not kidding. So boy, did we milk it. Every opportunity we got. I mean, we had to check if our vocal cords were, in fact, still in operation.

And that, my friends, is the essence here…it really simply is…HAVING FUN. Our teacher shared with us the story of asking his wise and insightful teacher the following question: “So teacher, what is the essence of this practice?” expecting perhaps some profound, life-altering answer. The teacher replied, “Have fun”.

Seriously? Well, even I can do that. So friends, let’s try and bring the FUN back into mindfulness meditation…and ultimately into how we live our lives. Certainly, one of the greatest gifts this practice has afforded me with is to not take myself so damn seriously. Here’s to laughter.

Sending love and light


I’m Anneke Kirsten-Barnard, a Counselling Psychologist (MA Counseliing Psychology) with a special interest in Mindfulness, Emotional Intelligence, and Leadership training. I help corporate professionals and leaders overcome workplace challenges and reach their full potential.