When I arrived at my first week-long silent retreat, I was nervous to say the least. Who wouldn’t feel a little that way—laying aside your cell phone, emails, work, daily schedule, favorite snacks…? And you thought quitting Mount Dew gave you the shakes!
On those first few days, there are some serious withdrawal effects—so much so that the guy I rode with would have gone home if he wasn’t going to leave me in a lurch. All sorts of crazy thoughts would come up too—”What’s going to happen with X or Y….Are things going to be okay at home without me…Am I going to be okay without all that at home!?”
And guess what? It turns out the world went on revolving just fine without me for a week. Nothing had radically changed by the time I returned home seven days later…except me!
I honestly never thought I’d be sitting at a retreat in silence for seven days. I originally started studying mindfulness as an intellectual exercise—because it had been proven to cut in half relapse from depression. But after getting to know more people who had made intentional space in their lives for more consistent, dedicated stillness and silence (otherwise known as “meditation”), I was struck at how calm they were.
I wanted that! So I stopped just studying and reading about mindfulness—and started doing it…practicing it myself. As part of our training as Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction Teachers—a class that Jon Kabat-Zinn started at the University of Massachusetts 30 years ago—we were required to do seven and 10-day retreats.
It was hard. But also amazing afterward. When I left the retreat center, I felt so refreshed and grounded—and deeply well inside. And when I got home, I was all of a sudden the best husband and best dad…to my three young boys (at least for a few days!) Just wanting to be with them, help them, play with them…Just being there!
One look at my wife, however, reminded me that while I had been on a silent retreat, Monique had been experiencing a Noise Retreat. With multiple toddlers competing daily for who’s the funniest and silliest monkey in the house, life in our home is active to say the least. After seven days of this without any support from me, my wife was harried and exhausted.
In the days after the retreat, we couldn’t stop thinking about how could we bring more silence, space and stillness into our home—both to bring my wife the benefits, and to help me be the Best Dad for at least a few more days…
We’ve continued talking about that question ever since as a family—and we’ve tried a lot of things since. That includes small things, like three breaths before prayer…which lets Little Toddler Minds (and Frazzled Parent Minds too) settle for a moment before prayer…
There’s one thing we’ve tried that’s made an especially large difference—not a new idea, and in fact, it’s something emphasized by the prophets more and more in recent years.
It’s easy to think that getting mindful requires adopting eastern meditation practices—many of which, by the way, are quite remarkable and inspired. But what Monique and I kept feeling was that we already have in our faith community many practices that could be amazing excuses to stop, be still and breathe…
So why don’t they feel that way? Maybe because we get so caught up in the Doing Mode of Mind that when it comes time to actually reading our scriptures—instead of stopping to read…it can become just another thing to Get Done. Same with prayer. Even the language we use to describe our quintessential Latter-day Saint retreat center (the temple) often involves “doing a session” or “doing a name” or “doing a baptism.”
What if, rather than More Things on our list to get done, each of these could be excuses to stop, pause, breathe…and be still? That’s become our big experiment at home in recent years—starting with turning the Sabbath into more of a mindful retreat.
Sure, it would be nice to be able to check out and go retreat all alone in a beautiful place on occasion. But what if that’s not realistic for most Latter-day Saint families? It hit us that we’ve got a built-in retreat already ready for us called the Sabbath. How could we take advantage of it more?
I’ll be honest, my Sabbaths weren’t that restful before. Can you remember a specific time when you realized that your sabbaths weren’t restful? Like a particular day when you had a million meetings and dinners and fighting? If so, plan to describe your experience with that day
Once again, the prophets have been speaking to this often—so none of this is that new. But we decided to step away from emails and news completely—catching up with that all on Monday. We said “thanks but no thanks” more often to frequent family dinners on Sunday as well. And instead of using the extra time to get busy with something else, we intentionally dedicated that time to fulfilling the mantra “don’t just do something, sit there!”
Ahhh! Sitting. When was the last time you took 5 minutes—and just sat on a nice chair. Not stewing over something or reading. Just sitting there?
That’s what we do on Sundays. On the couch. Talking. Or not talking. Sometimes on a walk. Reading. A lot!
Sometimes this involves letting the kids play downstairs so we have more quiet time to talk—other times wrangling them for the Sunday walk in a quiet place in town.
Not everyone around us understood what we were doing. For instance, The first time we told our family we weren’t coming to family dinner, they were a little confused at first…but that wasn’t a bad thing, because it became a good chance to start a conversation—explaining what we were learning, how we were benefiting from more of a quiet Sabbath—and reassuring people that it was nothing personal (and heck, we’d still be there sometimes—at least Christmas!) (:
The bigger transition has involved our own inner world. Remember the “shakes” I told you about when starting the seven-day retreat? I sometimes feel those when starting a Sabbath morning—or my worship on other mornings too…laying aside all the distraction and work demands.
Let’s be honest, there’s always more we can do—and more we need to do, right?
It’s not easy to lay that aside. C.S. Lewis once taught:
“The real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind. We can only do it for moments at first. But from those moments the new sort of life will be spreading through our system: because now we are letting Him work at the right part of us.” Mere Christianity (1952; Harper Collins: 2001) 198-199
That quote so describes my experience! Like rebounding in basketball, you really have to box out and clear the space in order for the most important things to happen.
So, whatever you have to box out, whatever wild animals rush at you, and whatever withdrawal tremors hit—don’t let it stop you from finding your own space, stillness and silence!
At least one day a week—and at least one hour a day—make time for more of this in your life. I can promise it will not only help your mental stability and sanity…it will help your spirituality.
In the end, God is not found in the fire or earthquake—or great drama of life—but in the Still, and the Small.
Are you missing that?
Try it—and let us know how it goes! Can’t wait to find out.