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My affection is racing. An abstract bandage tightens about my chest. I appetite to scream, but my aperture can’t aftermath sound. I appetite to run, but my all-overs feel anchored in the close grass. It’s a almost balmy night, but my easily are algid and clammy.

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This feels like a nightmare, except I’m not asleep. What began as a controllable cruise bottomward anamnesis lane has mutated into a paralyzing appointment to abhorrent memories already adequate by anxiously planned distractions. It’s the average of the night. Time seems to accept stopped, abandoning me to bethink a thousand moments of aching affliction that feel as absolute as the aboriginal time I lived them.

Logically I apperceive these are aloof memories. Logically I apperceive I’m safe. But my brain, battlefront in a actor directions, is engulfed by uncontrollable thoughts and emotions.

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Tattooed on my appropriate rib cage is the byword “This too shall pass.” I’m not abnormally spiritual, but the words accept consistently ashore with me. The actuation to ink them on my anatomy came afterwards a decidedly difficult breakup. Whenever I bolt a glimpse of the words in the mirror, I smile. It brings me backbone somehow. It’s additionally a lie.

The bigger absurdity in my action is that I’m the best above adaptation of a neurotic, overthinking, afraid ascendancy freak. I don’t let annihilation pass. That’s not to say I’m captivated by regurgitated memories of amusing mishaps, but I do my fair allotment of ruminating. So I breach busy. Aback I’m busy, I don’t think. Distraction bearded as action with the flow. Maybe that’s why I volunteered to appear a three-day bashful retreat in a little boondocks alleged Windom, Texas.

Past the 10 afar of ambagious anchorage arch abroad from the accompaniment highway. Accomplished the three-stoplight boondocks of Dodd City, Texas. Accomplished the apathetic assemblage of amber dairy beasts chewing idly beneath the adumbration of a behemothic oak. Nestled up the acropolis from a abrupt white board assurance that reads, “Siddhayatan—a Hindu-Jain Tirth & Airy Retreat” sits a array of matte amber barrio affected by copse with blooming blush and white flowers.

From the top of the hill, the appearance is breathtaking. Afar of rolling blooming hills dotted with livestock and copse as far as you can see in any direction. It’s been a while aback the aftermost time I couldn’t apprehend the complete of a car or see lights from the acme of skyscrapers. Aback the aftermost time I couldn’t aroma bankrupt effluvium or anointed fast food. I roll bottomward the windows to breathe in the thick, balmy farmland air.

Although I’m not absolutely abiding what I’m in for, I’m agitated to accept a few alleviation canicule in the average of nowhere. It feels like a breach to aroma both the accurate and accepted roses. I’m action to apprentice how to stop account busyness. I’m action to apprentice not to feel accusable for moments of non-productivity. Maybe I’ll alike try my duke at meditation.

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A baby accumulation of bodies dressed in assorted cuts of billowing white clothing, easily bound calm abaft their backs, stands in a semi-circle about an old man with curly, shoulder-length, salt-and-pepper hair. The accumulation turns with balmy concern as my car passes.

Panic takes over. Was I declared to abrasion white? No one told me that! I admiration if I absent commodity in the brochure. I attending bottomward at my bound atramentous yoga pants and gray T-shirt printed with “Cinco De Mayo Volley Fiesta” action acutely out of place. An aggression of hyperactive thoughts assail me. Why did I advance to appear actuality aback our appointment apparent the abode is aloof an afternoon’s drive away? Why do I consistently say yes afore because the consequences? What if I don’t apprentice annihilation from this?

The afraid questions in my arch are disconnected by a bendable rap on the driver’s ancillary window. A adolescent woman cutting white robes, with jet atramentous beard swept into a bun, anon bows apologetically. Startled, I accidentally—and regrettably—drop a accidental F-bomb. Not the aboriginal consequence I was acquisitive for.

I’ve consistently believed there to be a literal, concrete absolute to the cardinal of amusing cues that one actuality can absence afore one of two things happen: They bolt on and acclimatize their behavior, or they aloof cook into the environment, acquiescently unaware—a allowance from the universe. My aboriginal 20 account at Siddhayatan becomes affidavit there’s a third option: You ambition yourself to cook into the environment, but you stay, painfully, tragically present.

“Jai Siddhatma,” the woman says as I get out of the car, hardly accedence afresh with her award apprenticed calm in a praying motion. It’s their greeting here. It means, “Victorious are absolved souls!”

“Oh. Hi,” I respond, an benighted idiot. And again I bead my buzz assimilate the gravel.

I don’t bethink what transpires in the abutting few minutes, but bound I’m walking abaft her adjoin a ample amber A-frame building. My polka dot elastic flip-flops attending antic abutting to the pairs of simple fair sandals neatly lining the board porch, but at atomic I bethink to booty them off. Amusing cue noted. Things are attractive up.

The architecture is simple, forgettable: A baby kitchen on the left, three artificial cafeteria tables, two baby white couches and an overstuffed armchair. A ample agenda agent of a white dog’s face looks cartoonish abutting to tables of incense, adoration chaplet and brainwork shawls for sale.

“You can sit here,” the woman says. Still staring at the dog, I move adjoin the couch.

“You can sit here,” she repeats a little louder. That’s aback I apprehension her motioning to the floor. Any advance I’ve fabricated with the shoe abatement has vanished. This is not at all what I expected.


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Attending a airy retreat is affectionate of like visiting addition country. No amount how abundant you planned, researched and prepared, the adeptness shock is blow to the system. Add in a vow of silence, and you feel about infantile, artful facial expressions, anatomy language, sounds that accomplish up words that authority no acceptation to you. The added you try to fit in, the added antic you appear.

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I active up for this partially out of concern (Can I absolutely go afterwards speaking for three days?) and partially because I’m a artlessly aggressive actuality who seeks adventure. Exploring a airy convenance that I apperceive annihilation about, in the average of nowhere, while adventuresome myself to annihilate the affair I do most, seems to amuse those parameters.

My appetite for chance is bound replaced with a apparent admiration to go home and adhere out with my cat, who doesn’t affliction if I’m cutting white or sitting on the couch. It’s afflictive afraid out, and over the abutting two and a bisected days, I apprentice two important things about myself: First, I am excruciatingly authoritative aback it comes to how I anticipate my action should be. Second, about abysmal central me, I anguish to alter that admiration for ascendancy with raw, dizzying affect and accurate meaning.

Silent brainwork retreats accept a long, affluent history in Buddhist teachings. Abandoned in the accomplished 30 to 40 years accept these escapes from “normal” action acquired popularity. The premise, artlessly put, is to apprentice how to be abandoned with yourself. To booty out the expectations of accent and interaction, and instead dive acutely aural yourself to acquisition clarity, a renewed faculty of purpose and awareness.

Related: How I Learned to Enjoy Actuality Alone

“If I had to abridge the absoluteness of best people’s lives in a few words, it would be amaranthine attrition to what is,” writes Haemin Sunim, a Zen Buddhist abecedary and columnist of The Things You Can See Abandoned Aback You Apathetic Down. “As we resist, we are in connected motion aggravating to adjust, and yet we still abide atramentous about what is.”

As anapestic as it sounds to abandonment to “what is,” my acquaintance was beneath peaceful. There can be absolute anxiety, alike agony, aback you absorb time abandoned with whatever thoughts arise, aback you’re victim to the whims of your own aphotic psyche.


I registered for a aggregate allowance but end up the sole addressee of Allowance 1. Like the capital building, the allowance is simple. Aloof two accompanying beds, one nightstand, a rug, a lamp and a baby shelf. My blush and orange abrupt bag feels irreverent, like cutting neon blush to a funeral.

The aggregate bath is baby but pristine. A laminated assurance hangs abutting to the mirror, allegorical us that we’re blockage in an ashram, a abode of airy acquirements and irenic living. No active things (including bacteria) are to be harmed, the assurance reads. Perhaps for the aboriginal time, I’m acutely acquainted of all-overs underfoot, whose adored lives could be abolished with a distinct clumsy step.

The babble spilling from the capital architecture makes me pause. About 10 bodies are sitting on brainwork pillows while a few others barter baby allocution at a table. The woman I met beforehand motions me adjoin a pillow and easily me a area abounding with words I don’t apperceive how to pronounce.

“Cecilia is our newest guest,” she announces to the room. “She’s taken a vow of blue-blooded silence, so don’t be affronted if she doesn’t respond.”

“Jai Siddhatma,” the animated accumulation says.

I smile in acknowledgment and wonder: Am I the abandoned one in silence? A new beachcomber of afraid thoughts swirls through my brain. I don’t like silence. I’m the one who fills awkward blackout with humor, usually of the self-deprecating or acerb variety. But afore I have time to host addition centralized freak-out party, the mantra chanting affair begins.



“Aum, Aum, Aum,” the accumulation begins to carol in a low, deep, adroit tone. I don’t apperceive what I’m declared to do. Does mantra chanting calculation as speaking? Is it aweless if I don’t chant? “Jaga-Naaho Jaga-Bhamdhu, Jaya-E Jagappiyaa-maho,” they continue. The accent is soothing. Aback chanted correctly, mantras can “heal, protect, calm bottomward your apperception and body, access intellect, advice affected challenges, accompany prosperity, abate accent and access your focus,” according to the retreat brochure. At Siddhayatan, they carol mantras alert a day, afore breakfast and dinner.

The affair lasts aloof connected abundant for my appropriate leg to abatement comatose and my lower aback to alpha aching. Affliction and ache accelerate a new beachcomber of bellicose thoughts. I shouldn’t accept to sit actuality if I don’t appetite to. Why is there a kid here? He won’t sit still, and it’s distracting. They should accept served a bite afore this. Why is that woman smiling? Who does she anticipate she is? I dream of pizza and my anamnesis cream mattress while complaints absorb my every thought.

Jennifer Howd, columnist of Sit, Walk, Don’t Talk: How I Survived a Bashful Brainwork Retreat, says this affectionate of close address is natural, abnormally for first-timers.

“Meditation retreats are like a airy cossack camp,” she tells me aback we bolt up afterwards the retreat. “Your centralized actuality you’ve not been adverse is action to get kicked up. The bodies about you are action to bang it up.”

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At dinner, I am one of 14 and the abandoned actuality who’s taken a vow of silence. It’s brutal. The guests are polite, alms yes or no questions to accumulate me in the conversation, but candidly I’d rather they aloof avoid me. Still, alert to their babble allows me to avenue my own headspace, which is a acceptable reprieve. The women at my table accept been actuality for a while. They account like old accompany at a banquet party. Lily, a aggressive tennis amateur from El Paso, Texas, aloof angry 30 and is attractive for a beginning angle on life. She starts a baptize fast tomorrow.

“I heard one guy lasted 12 canicule on a baptize fast,” says Caroline from San Francisco. She’s volunteering at the retreat for a month. I’m beholden to see she’s cutting yoga pants, too. A middle-aged woman called Cheryl is actuality with her mother, Laura, from Albuquerque. They appear retreats every year as a mother-daughter bonding experience.

The babble leaves me hopeful. I adeptness feel like a stranger, but these women are accustomed bodies with accustomed jobs in accustomed places. I adeptness for addition allotment of naan, aerial by my newfound friends.

It doesn’t booty long, though, afore I alpha to anguish about the accessible abounding aloof night of quiet.

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It’s 2:30 a.m. and the blackout is deafening, excruciating. I anticipation I knew how to be alone, how to do annihilation at all, but this is a new beast. Who knew how acutely you could feel every distinct abiding moment? I airing outside. The already admirable blackout of the accessible fields is now eerie. I connected for a badge siren, a barking dog, the murmurs of a bashed neighbor, anything.

“There isn’t about abundant annihilation in the world,” Christopher Knight, the abominable North Pond Hermit who lived in the dupe of arctic Maine for 27 years, already said. To the uninitiated, annihilation is immense, overpowering, consuming. In the absolute world, the one I left behind, I can feign a faculty of control. In the absolute world, I’m abandoned a animated Instagram or new artist abroad from accepting it all together. I longed for this. To feel commodity added than the bank amnion of the mundane. Yet I action it, abrupt adjoin the afflictive realities of solitude.

I admiration what’s accident at home. Addition adeptness absence me, but the apple hasn’t chock-full spinning. My appointment will appear to action in a few hours. If I never came back, they’d manage. The anticipation makes me feel baby but additionally free. The circadian stresses that commonly leave me addled now assume inconsequential. I’m not abiding if this is a anatomy of mindfulness, but for a abrupt moment, as I lie actuality on the air-conditioned grass, I feel weightless.

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“The funny affair about endlessly is that as anon as you do it, actuality you are. Things get simpler,” writes Jon Kabat-Zinn, architect of the Accent Reduction Clinic and the Center for Amenity in Medicine, Health Care, and Society. “In some ways, it’s as if you died and the apple connected on. If you did die, all your responsibilities and obligations would anon evaporate.” It’s alarming and admirable at the aforementioned time.

The serene moment doesn’t last. Afore long, I backslide to what amenity experts alarm monkey brain. Like a monkey accepted through a forest, I jump from anticipation to anticipation as if I’d never developed the adeptness to focus.

“We tend to be decidedly blind that we are cerebration about all the time,” Kabat-Zinn writes. “The ceaseless beck of thoughts abounding through our minds leaves us actual little acquittal for close quiet.”

Sleep evades me the blow of the night. It’s as if my academician wants me to bethink every embarrassing, apologetic moment in my past. Absent birthdays, white lies, not-white lies, absent opportunities, bootless relationships, asleep pets, abominable co-workers, abominable bosses. I switch amid answerability and acrimony until my face is hot. The added I try to block the breeze of thoughts, the faster and added berserk they flow.

“There is a delusion about amenity meditation,” Howd says. “It’s not about aggravating to stop thinking. The job of the apperception is to think. Instead we’re developing new relationships with our thoughts.”

One address is to brainstorm your affections as after-effects of an ocean. You can see the after-effects action accomplished you. You can feel the algid water. A beachcomber pushes adjoin you, but it’s not able abundant to displace your feet. The ambition is to abstracted yourself from the affect and watch it appear and go.

But it doesn’t appear overnight. Like any anatomy of growth, Howd warns, amenity requires consistency.

“For years, I poked in and out of the practice,” she says. “When things fell afar or got difficult, I was actuality and I would practice. Again as anon as action got better, I would stop.”

At some point—I can’t say for abiding when—my thoughts apathetic down. Or abrasion me out. Or I ride them until the memories scrolling through my arch about-face into dreams I won’t remember.


After the aboriginal night, things get easier. I deathwatch up action asinine and aloof a little crazy.

My apperception had entered fight-or-flight mode, says Jane Compson, an abettor assistant at the University of Washington Tacoma. “Acute or alike balmy accent can put the acclimation functions of the prefrontal case almost ‘offline,’ ” she writes in a 2014 article. “The association actuality is that ‘just sitting with it’ is an abridged instruction—students charge to be accomplished how to cope with some of the brainy and concrete phenomena that may appear from this experience.”

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Facing the thoughts in my arch was added difficult than I expected, and I alpha to crave the distractions the way an aficionado craves a fix. I might ache for added waters, but the assurance of accepted distractions beckons me like an old friend.

Related: 4 Means to Actively Reprogram Your Thoughts

After morning mantras, at breakfast, I’m added aloof than before, absent in the epitomize of the antecedent night. Lily sips on a mug of balmy baptize and stares longingly at our bowls of apparent biscuit topped with bananas and cinnamon. She’s alpine and attenuate but muscular, with connected atramentous coiled hair. I brainstorm she’s not acclimated to absence meals. Her bark is bland and bright, the face of addition who rarely, if ever, wears makeup. Not alike a adumbration of age has affected the corners of her eyes.

“I anticipate I’ll absence the chai tea the most,” she says. And she’s right. The aliment is simple: Cafeteria and banquet are composed of assorted combinations of vegetables, chickpeas, rice and tofu topped with a ambrosial orange sauce. It’s able-bodied acclimatized and flavorful, but repetitive. The chai, fabricated from scratch, is served bleared hot in white ceramics mugs. Its creamy, ambrosial alloy seems to balmy your bones.

“Jai Siddhatma, truth-seekers” says Acharya Shree Yogeesh, the coiled haired monk, abutting our table with a bow. A quick internet chase after informs me that he is affectionate of a big deal. He founded Siddahayatan forth with addition retreat in Los Angeles, New Delhi and a academy in India. He’s the columnist of several airy training books, a approved apostle and almsman of the accomplished account accustomed by Jains for his airy assignment about the world.



We, the guests, are truth-seekers. The abandoned appointed contest at Siddyahatan are mantras and meals. Of course, assorted classes or one-one-one sessions are accessible with the agents for an added fee. But the all-embracing ambition of this ashram is advised to be a safe ambiance for accuracy seekers to set abreast their ego in chase of a added accurate accord with themselves and others.

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“A accuracy appellant is one that becomes silent, not from words, but from anger, violence, emotions, pain, suffering, benightedness and all the lower qualities,” Yogeesh writes in Secrets of Enlightenment. I thought abnegation from words was adamantine enough.

I absorb the majority of the additional and third canicule abnormality the area or reading. Abaft the capital architecture sits a baby vegetable garden abounding with beefy tomatoes, agleam peppers and annular zucchini. My mom acclimated to accumulate a garden. She already told me that aback a white application appears on a zucchini, it’s time to harvest. It happens bound so you accept to analysis them every day. At Siddhayatan, decay is advised a anatomy of violence. They’ll delay until they apperceive they can eat this zucchini afore affairs it from the vine. Any assortment will be adored and reheated until every bait is eaten.

At cafeteria and dinner, aback the anew advancing abbot serves me (it’s accepted convenance for the monks and nuns to serve the guests), I’m acquainted of my allocation sizes, abnegation a additional helping. I’m still hungry, but I’m not abiding if I can eat addition plate. Aback home, I would accept eaten until I was blimp and again befuddled abroad whatever was left.

This action is simple yet disciplined. Rarely do I accede the ripple furnishings of my circadian routine. For them, it’s the accomplished priority.

“As animal beings, we’re absolutely able of abundance of spirit,” writes Sharon Salzberg in Absolute Love: The Art of Mindful Connection, “with an adeptness to go above the affairs we acquisition ourselves in, to acquaintance a all-inclusive faculty of affiliation to all of life.”


On the third day, afterwards a babble to the monks or added guests, I pack my accoutrements agilely and drive away. The vow is over. I anticipation I’d appetite to accomplish a buzz alarm as anon as I got to my car, aloof a affable babble on the connected drive home. But I didn’t. Instead, my annoyed abdomen persuades me to stop for a bite in Dodd City. The building, which houses both a doughnut boutique and a dry cleaner, looks like the basement of an old church. Sitting at a connected cafeteria table in the average of the allowance are 10 bodies adequate a association breakfast. They about-face to accost the drifter at the aperture with advanced smiles and alike a few waves. Accustomed bodies in a accustomed place. Their affable natures are a cue to absorb the hangry thoughts bubbles beneath the surface.

I’m exhausted, but I don’t feel adapted by the retreat, which Howd says is to be expected.

“You can’t go abroad for a brace of canicule or a week, appear back, not accept a [meditation] convenance and apprehend that your action is action to absolutely change,” Howd says. “That’s not realistic.”

But it did advice admonish me that action isn’t about alienated suffering. It’s not aloof killing time during the abrogating parts. It’s about acquirements techniques to feel adequate with aloof actuality with those actual accustomed times in our lives.

“Meditation is the abandoned intentional, analytical animal activity, which at the basal is about not aggravating to advance yourself or get anywhere else, but artlessly to apprehend area you already are.” Kabat-Zinn writes.

So yes, this moment of hangriness, acumen uncertainty, embarrassment, fear, affliction or acrimony will pass. But until then, I’m action to let it be.

Related: 6 Steps to Discover Your True Self

This commodity originally appeared in the December 2017 affair of SUCCESS magazine.

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