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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Virchaux


It’s been about 2 months since I returned to the real world after my 10-day silent retreat. Being disconnected from everything and everyone — without a phone, the internet, books or a journal – this experience truly transformed my life.

Today, I want to share my personal experience with you from a place of vulnerability and openness: what it was like to be silent for 10-days and to be disconnected from everyone you know and all the comfort around you.

Train ride to Massachusetts from NYC, Nov 2018

Why I wanted to attend and experience a silent retreat

Before I dive in to the routine, the food, what I packed, I want to share with you why I wanted to participate in this retreat.

For starters, I wanted to connect with myself at a deeper level. Just me and my thoughts. We live in a world where everyone is trying to get our attention. We are saturated with messages and sometimes we don’t even realize that we’re being influenced by the people on the subway, by the news, the shows that we watch, social media and so forth.

I wanted to detach, disconnect and allow for my mind to have the space to just be without the constant noise and external influence.

In addition, I wanted the space and opportunity to release a few painful memories that I’d been carrying with me for far too long. Those memories that feel too raw to think about – but create a heaviness that eventually becomes to difficult to live with.

I knew that to get to the next level in my life, in my journey, I had to forgive and release the painful things that I’d been carrying within me, like a lead-filled security blanket

Lastly, I was yearning to get in touch with my spiritual being at a deeper level. I believe that we are spiritual beings living a physical experience, and I was ready to re-connect with that being. The being that is divine energy, the part of us that always knows what is best for us, the ever-loving center that makes up who we are. Unfortunately, that same part that we tend to forget exists. I knew the retreat would provide a safe and dedicated space to do all that, and possible more.

How I chose the retreat

There are many types of silent retreats, grounded on various meditation practices with different purposes. The retreat I attended is grounded on a meditation practice called Vipassana. This practice is not anchored in any religion or dogmas, it’s simply a meditation about awareness, breathing and equanimity. The simplicity of the practice makes it life changing.

And so it begins

The location was in Shelbourne, MA, a short train ride from NYC. As soon as I arrived at the retreat, I was greeted by a bunch of smiling faces, I felt the warmth in the air and immediately felt comforted. I knew that I was in the perfect place for my inner transformation to begin.

I stood in line to get my room assignment (note: you can request single rooms, which I did), and then I was given a map of the place.

And then… the highly anticipated moment came… I was asked to put all of my personal items in a locked drawer for the next 10 days. I sent my husband a short text “I love you and will see you in 10 days.”

I handed over my belongings to the nice lady who locked it away as I watched. I felt excited. I was ready.

The first night is Orientation night. There’s a delicious dinner ready for you, while a soft-spoken and kind woman tells you what to expect during the next 10 days. There were roughly 100 people attending, approximately 50 women and 50 men.

Throughout the retreat, the women and men are separated. There’s a wing for males and a wing for females. The only time we are in the same room is when we meditate.

Once orientation ends, it’s time to go into our rooms. Walking to my room, I notice how clean the facilities are. Everything is fresh and organized. My room is simple and sparse, with a large window looking out to the mountains. As I unpack, I feel at peace and ready for my journey.

Before I continue, for all you who are thinking what clothes to pack and what to bring. Think loose and comfortable clothes because you’re sitting and meditating for many hours at a time. I packed yoga pants, sweat shirts, warm cardigans, and thick socks. There isn’t a washer/dryer but you can hand-wash clothes. Also, the retreat offer sheets for the beds. I brought my own sheets and towels, which made my experience, feel more comfortable and homey.

Structure of the day & rules

The rules are simple and I felt they were helpful in creating a warm, and respectful environment. Every day, you practice what they call Noble Silence. Which basically means “no talking, no looking people in the eye or smiling at each other.” The idea behind this rule is for you to get in touch with who you are. Get connected to yourself within, without external distractions.

There’s a floor manager and an assistant manager, and you have access to them 24/7.There is also a facilitator (a male and a female) that you have access to for five minutes a day, if you want to share your experience and/or ask any questions. This is the only time you are allowed to talk.

For the 10 days, there is a routine and structure of the day.

A gong goes off at 4am and the day begins with a 4:30am meditation. There are three mandatory group meditations daily. Breakfast is served at 6:30am, lunch at 11am and an afternoon snack at 5pm. In between the meals, you are meditating either on your own or with the group.

Also, I want to make a special note about the food, it was delicious! It’s all vegetarian and truly nourishing.

Every day, you have 2 hours mid-day for a break: one hour for lunch where you can talk to the assistant teacher if you want. If you don’t want to talk that day, you have an extra hour to do as you please.

Basically, your days consist of mediation, meals, talking with a counselor (if you choose), break time for showering, walking, or napping, more meditation and sleeping. Days begin at 4am and end at 9:30pm.

The routine of the daily schedule helps to keep you focused. And the gong that rings before and after meals, as well as, before and after meditations, helps to keep your day flowing.

Days 1 – 2: Getting in the rhythm of silence & a surprise love note

The first two days were fun and exciting for me. Waking up at 4am appealed to my inner achiever, and the excitement of new beginnings kept me focused.

Every day you have a lesson that you are to practice for 24 hours. And every night ends with a thought of the day, and a lesson for the following day.

The first thing you learn at this retreat is BREATHING. You learn how to breathe and bring awareness to your breath. It sounds so simple but think about how many times a day you actually stop to take a full breath. Probably not that many.

Breath is life. I learned that the breath is truly the key to liberation because it allows us to be in the present moment. When you are in the present, everything and anything is possible.

During day one and day two I tried to balance my time between the group meditations and alone time in my room - meditating and napping. I was trying to find the right rhythm.

The first couple of days, I didn’t meditate for 10 to 12 hours a day. I would only do the mandatory group sittings (6 hours a day) and in between meditations I would take a nap. Who knew meditation would be so exhausting. My mind was working so much that I felt wiped. Little by little, I started adding more hours to my meditation practice until I was able to meditate 12 hours daily. It was definitely a gradual build-up.

On a side note: whether you’re a newbie at meditation or you’re meditate often, anyone can go to this retreat. I met plenty of women who had never meditated (and loved it!) and plenty of women who meditate daily.

As I got ready for bed on the first night, I bundled up in my husband’s sweatshirt (that I sprayed with his cologne before leaving). I was all snuggly in bed and as I began to drift off, I stuck my hands in the pocket and felt a piece of paper. What is this?, I thought.

It was pitch dark so I grabbed the flashlight and pulled out the folded piece of paper from the pocket.

To my surprise, it was a love note from my husband!!! I was ecstatic! The note was so thoughtful saying how he hoped I get everything I want from this retreat, and how much he loved me, and that he couldn’t wait until I came back home.

I felt butterflies all over, and with a cheesy smile on my face I gently drifted off to sleep.

By the way: I read that note about 100 times throughout the next 10 days.

Day 3: A Vipassana love story – Part 1

On day 3, I felt that I was getting the hang of this new routine. Or so I thought...

After lunch break, I go back to my room to lay down and suddenly I started to worry about my husband. I know that I am okay and comfortable, but maybe he was worried and wondering how I was doing. And that worried me.

I didn’t want to hang on to this feeling and allow it to distract me from the meditation so I went in search of the floor manager. I asked her if it’d be okay for her to call my husband (as we’re not allowed to use any form of technology) and let him know that I was okay and happy.

She said she’d ask the Assistant Teacher and let me know.

I go back to my room and decide to take a nap to neutralize my thoughts of worry, and then I hear a knock. It was the assistant manager telling me that I got the green light.

YES! I am so happy. I write on a post-it note the three things that I want her to tell my husband: #1) I am happy #2) They have peanut butter (I am a huge PB fan and I knew telling him that would make him smile) #3) I love him

A few minutes later she came back & told me that she had left him a voicemail. I thought “okay good, he knows I’m good.” I feel relieved and ready to continue on my journey.

Day 4: My first breakdown

On this particular day, the lesson of the day was all about sensations. We learned that the sensations in our bodies is how we experience change. When we allow those sensations to flow through us, we are in essence happier because we are allowing nature to do its thing by honoring the process of change.

When we block the sensations with painkillers, food, etc, we block the natural process of change and it affects our attitude, our demeanor and so forth.

For some reason when I heard those words, it penetrated my heart at a deep level and the tears flowed.

I wasn’t sad or in pain, it was more like all of the pain that I’d be avoiding my entire life was coming to the surface and it all came pouring out. I stayed in the meditation hall for what seemed like over an hour just honoring the tears and allowing the healing.

This was my first breakdown and when a deep healing took place for me. It was absolutely beautiful.

Day 6: Vipassana Love Story – Part 2

I am standing outside the assistant manager’s door pondering whether to knock or not…

I go for it ‘knock, knock’, she opens the door and I say “I really miss my husband, can you please call him again and tell him that I love him?”

She gently looks at me, smiles and says “You have to ask the Assistant teacher this time, if she says yes, I will.”

Then she pauses and says “can I share something with you?” I nod.

She says “it seems to me this is the ideal time to practice Vipassana.”