Breathwork practitioner Ashley Neese reflects on her first silent meditation retreat—and the benefits 10 minutes of silence can have for your everyday life—in this excerpt from her new book, Permission to Rest.
I spent my thirtieth birthday in a silent meditation retreat in Northern California. I was terrified to be with myself in silence for an entire week, to be that intimate with my breath, my body, my thoughts, and the grief I carried from my recent breakup. The pull to attend the retreat, however, was so strong that I couldn’t ignore it. I signed up and made my way to the center with a group of strangers, eager to sit in, and scared of what I might find in, the silence.
In that retreat I experienced countless moments that were difficult to sit and breathe through. There were times during meditation when I cried so much that it seemed like I would never stop. My heart ached. My back hurt. The waves of grief were relentless. I wanted to run out of the center more than once. In hindsight, it’s good I didn’t drive myself there or I likely would have left early!
What I learned, despite the tremendous discomfort of being present with grief, was that eventually the waves passed. And when they passed, those moments of rest were deepened by periods of silence.
When we carve out the time to be with ourselves without our habitual distractions, we open ourselves up to deeper opportunities to home in on what’s really important. We refine our capacity to see, to feel, and to perceive in ways that are potentially more accurate. Through silence, we can go deeper into our bodies, into metabolizing our learnings and accessing the vast emptiness of the wilderness, the deep beauty that lives within all of us.
A DAILY SILENCE PRACTICE
You can choose to walk slowly, sit, or eat a meal without books or devices. I suggest starting with five to ten minutes and then expanding as your capacity grows. The practice is an invitation to be with whatever you have been unwilling to be with and to notice what emerges in the quiet.
Choose the activity that you’re going to practice in silence, like walking or mindful eating, and commit to the length of time. Free yourself from your devices and distractions.
Try your best to anchor into your inhales and exhales. Feel your body and your breath. Observe what arises.
Be with yourself. Be gentle with yourself. Take your time.
Before you close your silence practice and transition out of that stillness, notice how your body feels and recall what came up for you that feels especially important.
Excerpted from Permission to Rest. Copyright © 2023 by Ashley Neese. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Random House.