>>>Shhh… Ten days (or more) in silence
The meditation associated with silent retreats is Vipassana, which defends purification through self-observation.

Shhh… Ten days (or more) in silence

Switch off your alarm clock for ten days. And the TV. And the phone. Give your mind a holiday in a silent retreat and temporarily tune out all the sounds in your life, including your own voice.

ilence, please’ is message that greets visitors to tourist hub in Finland, a country that believes in ‘silent’ tourism and the increasingly valuable absence of noise. Our lives are controlled by the ringtone of our mobiles, the honk of car horns, the sounds of social network notifications, the torture of the alarm clock… Getting away from all of this and embracing the sound of silence is an excellent way of giving your mind a holiday and connecting with yourself.

This is the type of holiday offered by places that truly believe in the importance of peace and quiet. Noora Vikman, a soundscape researcher at the University of Eastern Finland, considers that the concept of ‘silence’ applied to a trip does not only refer to the complete absence of sounds. Rather, it is more a case of appreciating ‘soundscapes’ in which individual sounds can be clearly distinguished, such as the song of a bird or the splashing of waves. And above all, learning how to listen to your mind. For the first few days, your thoughts will deafen you, but once you’ve ‘switched off’, peace will surely come.

In most silent retreats, the food served is vegetarian and organic.

21st-century monasteries

In Eremito ‘Hotelito del Alma’ (Ternil, Italy), the guests live like lay brothers. The single rooms are ‘cells’, very well equipped but with no TV or WiFi. Silence isn’t obligatory but in such a glamorous environment of introspection and peace, it usually comes naturally.

The majority of silent retreats will feature large doses of meditation and include yoga sessions. Generally speaking, participants are required to remain in absolute silence, a state which can only be broken when it is necessary to speak to the coordinators or instructors. In addition, participants are ‘invited’ to refrain from mixing among themselves and, even from sending written notes to one another. And, of course, mobile phones and email are replaced by long walks along nature trails and peaceful reading sessions.

The PachaMama Complex in Costa Rica became popular among beginners when Gisele Bündchen decided to spend three days there without talking. Surrounded by jungle, PachaMama holds silent retreats twice a year, during which no one says a word, not even the staff.

Silence can start with transport: there are trains with silent carriages and some Air Asia planes offer noise-free rows.

The total silence in Silent Retreat, in Bali, lasts even longer. ‘I thought it would be very difficult to keep in silence for three whole weeks, but I’ve enjoyed every minute. At last my body and soul have been able to rest in this magical place,’ explains Tina from Sweden on the retreat’s website. Surrounded by rice paddies, the silence is easier to bear if you wander around the extensive grounds, which include a maze, a chunk of jungle and an aromatic herb garden.

Some retreats are free and are financed by the donations retreatants give at the end of their stay to express their gratitude for the experience.
Photo: Allen Kennedy Photography / Spirit Rock

In other places the rules are stricter still. At the Buddhist retreat of Gaia House, (Devon, Britain), they take extra precautions to ensure individual introspection, so much so that they ask their guests to refrain from reading so that they can focus exclusively on their thoughts.

Retreats usually last between three and 10 days, although there are people who need longer to attain the state of ‘nirvana’. In the Spirit Rock Mediation Centre, California, non-communication can last as long as two months.

Not everyone succeeds in doing it, though those that do achieve strongly recommend the experience. Either way, the next time your alarm clock goes off, you’ll miss the silence.

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