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An Underused Super Power: Silence (episode 122)

Updated: Sep 5, 2022

This past weekend I went on retreat. Not to a fancy yoga or wellness center, although they do serve delicious simple meals. I went to a place two hours south of here past farms and fields and small towns to a place where everyone goes to be silent. Not to escape, but to refresh their souls.

The timing couldn't have been worse. But maybe that's the best time to go away by oneself. We've had lots of doctors' appointments lately for a family member, the fridge was bare, the house in chaos, moods were tense, and no one was excited for mom to leave town.

I almost canceled at the last minute, but something deep inside pulled me to go. This is what I feel when my inner wise woman is talking to me. I feel a pull. Some people describe God winks, nudges, coincidences, or urges. Mine feels like Oprah described once. Like there's a cord and it's woven throughout all the hardships as well as the wonderful moments, gently tugging me towards the next step.

Despite the pull, my brain argued a hard case for not going. Eli had his first cross-country meet, Chase had a lot going on, and Ollie ended up getting sick. Oh, and I was in a rental car because my car was getting repaired after getting rear-ended.

But as I said, the pull was strong, so I went. As I get closer, the towns got smaller and the farms got bigger. The endless podcast voices began to feel intrusive, so I drove in silence the last 8 miles, pulling up around 3:30pm Friday. There's no check-in procedure other than picking an empty guest room and looking at the board for the days' schedule.

Each room in the guest house has a single bed, a rocking chair, a desk, and a bedside table. There's something so relaxing about only having what's necessary. I immediately put the extra quilt on the bed and crawled under the covers. I took a nap, then it was time to meditate. I sat in silence and marveled at the joy of doing nothing except watching my thoughts and breath. My brain kept jumping back to "what if it rains and Ollie got soaked after school? What if my mother-in-law doesn't know where to pick Eli up? What if .... and on and on" but I tried to watch the thoughts and, using an old trick from a yoga teacher, I imagined filing those thoughts away into manila folders under headings like "kid gets injured/hurt" or "natural disaster wipes out my family"

By the time we were done meditating I felt pretty good. It was time for Eucharist where we all take communion and have a short service. Then I sat in the swing outside and watched the birds while I waited for supper. Supper was tamales, black beans, rice, and a salad. The other 4 guests and I ate in silence with our hosts, Steve, Faye, and Oliver.

After supper Steve led us in a short service (spoken) and we were done by 8. I climbed back into my twin bed and slept 9 hours. When I got up I felt restored. I sat in the chapel alone, reflected on my blessings and also my prayers of need. There's no cell service in the guest house or hardly anywhere on the property, so it's less tempting than you'd think to get on your phone. While the other guests slept, I drank coffee and ate the delicious sourdough bread Steve's been making everyday for 30 years. I journaled and lay in bed for another hour.

I finally went for a walk around the big field. I usually do this as exercise, speed walking past soybeans or cotton, my arms pumping. This walk was different, I couldn't move fast. My body would not do it. I walked so slowly it probably looked like I was 90. I tried to be mindful of each movement of my foot hitting the dirt, crunching the tractor-ridged soil. I breathed, I used all my senses to smell, feel, and hear. The weekend went on like this, napping, eating, walking, sitting. By the time I drove back home on Sunday I knew I'd made the right choice in getting away.

Even with coming home and grocery shopping, sending out my newsletter, and dealing with a sick little girl.

Why am I telling you all about my weekend? Am I getting ready to host a silent retreat and I'm trying to drum up business? No way. I'm telling you this because my own life mirrors what I see in clients and friends, especially moms. We run ourselves into the ground, or, another expression, we set ourselves on fire to keep others warm. This leads inevitably to burnout or anger and resentment. Before you know it, you're all woe is me.

How about you? What are you telling yourself you HAVE to do that leads to burnout? Is it "I have to keep the family afloat, I have to be the chauffeur, the cook, the house cleaner." One of mine is that I have to be Miss Optimistic, since that's my name. Or since I am a life coach, I have to have a perfect family life or I don't have any business coaching others.

Are these true? Do I have to be perfect and hopeful all the time? No. Do I have to grocery shop for them, make sure there's lactose free milk, the kids brush their teeth and do their chores etc?

If you're drawing a blank when it comes to your own beliefs about what you have to do, pretend your best friend presented you with tickets to go away on a free vacation for two weeks. Your boss agrees to pay you the same amount and not subtract the two weeks from your vacation. What are your immediate protests? What pops into your brain?

Now, ask yourself if it's 100% true you HAVE to do all these things. If there's even a sliver of "well, maybe..." then it's not 100% true.

It's like we're all carrying around backpacks we weighed down with our own bricks. Imagine bricks and each one is labeled with a different thing like childcare, groceries, housecleaning. Do y'all remember spring of 2020 and how we all thought we had to do things but we really didn't? We really didn't have to take our kids to soccer, we didn't have to go to committee meetings, we didn't have to grocery shop in person?

We've all forgotten that and now we carry these bricks around. The image of the bricks and backpack is what this past weekend was about. It was a permission slip from me to me to set the backpack down. It's harder than it looks to set it down, but once you do, you realize those bricks aren't going anywhere, you can pick them back up anytime you want. And guess what? No one's life was in danger by me setting by bricks aside.

Are you curious about how you can set your own bricks down?

  1. The first step is to notice when you're getting weighed down. The signs are usually physical: your skin is a mess, your muscles are tight, your reflux is horrible, you can't sleep, or you're binge eating the kids' cereal. The mental signs are snapping at loved ones, sighing a lot, feeling anxious or "what's the point", wanting to numb out on shopping or drinking or being unusually weepy and emotional.

  2. Once you know what's going on, you have a choice. Maya Angelou says when you know better you do better. So once you realize you're carrying around too much weight on your shoulders, you have a choice to do things differently. In AA they have a term for victim, it's called a volunteer. Think about that. You are choosing to do all these things. On my YouTube channel I have a body compass exercise, this more than anything else will be helpful in knowing which things are essential/desired and which things need to be given up/hired out.

  3. Talk to someone. Talk to a therapist, a coach, your mom, or your partner. Let them know how you feel. This releases all that pent-up energy. When clients are super wound up, it's like a balloon oozing all that air out. I can see their shoulders relax, their facial muscles become less tense as they let out all the stress they've been carrying around.

  4. Get clear about what you want. Many clients give me a blank look when I say, "So what do you really want to happen or be different?" We don't even let ourselves imagine there's alternatives. The left side of the brain will tell you flat out there are no other options, carry on little soldier, grin and bear it, suck it up buttercup. But, if you can access the right side of the brain, the creative side, you'll be shocked with what you can come up with. One way is to imagine you have a magic wand with which you can create unlimited resources and help. What would you do with this wand?

  5. Name what your version of peace and recharging looks like--it might not be going to a silent retreat, that might totally weird you out. Maybe for you it's getting a sitter and going to a coffee shop alone for two hours. Or going to a yoga class that's crazy expensive. Two of my friends left the house at dark one Sat morning and drove to Atlanta for a Soul Cycle class. That was my idea of hell, so I didn't go. Another friend loves to throw dance parties for her birthday. She'll send the kids to her in-laws, invite a bunch of people, and pump out the music, dancing until the wee hours. This is also my idea of hell. I have a client who takes sick leave to meet with me, scheduling it after lunch so she can take the afternoon off every couple of weeks. She's doing this for her. My neighbor turns her phone on do not disturb on Sundays. She goes off the radar and uses Sunday to reflect, rest, and restore. Try sitting outside with nothing to do. Eat in silence with nothing on the table except your food. Eat slowly. For one day a week, listen to your body if it wants to nap. If you want to go to bed at 8, do it.

  6. Lastly, put it on the calendar. When I leave the silent retreat center, I always, always book another weekend 6 months later. You'll be a better mom, worker, friend, or partner if you take time for yourself. You aren't doing anyone a favor by becoming burned out.

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