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Mindfulness Retreats – To Speak or Not to Speak

When a person wants to develop a deeper understanding of mindfulness, it can be very helpful to attend a mindfulness retreat. In such a retreat, whether it is for a day, several days, a week or longer, the basic principals of learning to pay attention from moment to moment are both taught and practiced. Simple but oftentimes challenging concepts are taught on retreat, such as when you are sitting, know you are sitting, and when walking, be mindful of that too. Some retreats also encourage people to practice mindful eating where participants are encouraged to pay attention to every bite of food they consume. A vow of silence is also commonly taken during retreat to help participants reduce outer distractions in order to more effectively attend to inner distractions.

Incorporating mindfulness principals into daily life is a worthy challenge and one that requires attention, but most mindfulness retreats don’t help participants work on mindful speech; in fact, most retreats simply have the participants make the commitment not to speak. Working on being silent for a few days is a great thing, but it’s very different from practicing mindful speech.

Taking the skills learned in sequestered silence into everyday life can be quite challenging, especially when it comes to translating mindful silence into mindful and wise speech.

One crucial difference in the mindfulness retreats I conduct is that we talk during our time together. We apply mindfulness to speaking as we discuss whatever a person feels the need to express, including their difficulties. We also practice mindful communication as it applies to relationships, particularly when there is strain in relationship. Learning to communicate with dignity, clarity and respect, even while under intense emotional pressure, can be very helpful. One way it can be helpful is in reducing the number of comments one tends to make under such pressure that eventually have to be taken back. You can learn to avoid a lot of optional suffering as you develop mindful speaking. In addition, rather than practice in a monastery or retreat center, I offer the opportunity to practice in everyday life as it unfolds; all the while, I am present to coach and guide you through the process.

The retreat setting I offer has grown out of my extensive personal experience attending retreats over the past twenty-five years. These retreats can take place in a variety of settings or time periods. They can last a day or multiple days where appropriate. For example, recently a person traveled to where I live to work with me for several continuous days in a retreat style setting. I suggested that instead of making his plans in advance that instead he simply decide the start and ending dates and we would design the rest of our program schedule together, after he arrived. This even included deciding which hotel or lodge he would stay. Helping people explore what they feel they need to feel comfortable and safe, whether in deciding lodging or living in a relationship, can be a potent topic for examination. I have found that coaching and teaching people in real time – as things are happening – can have a significant influence in helping to bring awareness to behaviors, which can lead to positive change. Doing activities together is an excellent catalyst for showing a person where they are stuck or where they want to direct some attention.

Sharing meals, taking walks or hikes and having extended uninterrupted conversations are excellent catalysts as well. Feeling tired, daunted, vulnerable or anxious, then staying present as the experience unfolds and passes, is often exceptionally useful in learning to examine uncomfortable mind states and more skillfully navigating them.


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