I am finally ready to share my experience attending my first 3-day silent meditation retreat. When asked by others if I enjoyed the experience I have been on the fence about it. 50% of me enjoyed the experience and 50% of me hated it. And I know hate is a strong word. It also took me one month to sit with my thoughts on the retreat. I wanted to ensure I was sharing from a place of contemplation and not a quick reaction.
I attended Tiffany Nicholson-Smith’s 3-Day Silent Meditation Retreat at the Vichara Yoga Shala at the beginning of May 2023. I was intrigued by the concept after seeing her promote it a few times on her Instagram. I had always been curious to attend a silent meditation retreat. I roped a friend into joining me and we quickly signed up one night. For once, I didn’t research the retreat details too much and the act of signing up was fairly spontaneous.
In hindsight, there are details on her website that if I had looked a little closer I would’ve probably decided this wasn’t the right retreat for me. While 50% of me hated it, I AM glad that I went.
The Silent Meditation Retreat Details
This is how the retreat is explained on the website:
“This retreat is a unique 3-day immersion experience that focuses on accessing our real and essential nature, our highest Self, through a balanced integration of Inquiry, Meditation and Vichara Yoga. This retreat is intended to reveal our pure, true, boundless nature, and to allow that recognition to be a foundational and unchanged seeing. This is not intended as a momentary experience or a restful weekend, but rather an invitation to Be as you truly are and to know that undoubtedly.”
With that explanation, I was hooked, but I should’ve read a bit further. I think in the back of my mind, I was signing up for a silent meditation retreat where I thought I’d be able to meditate wherever I wanted and there wouldn’t be a strict place where we had to “sit”. For every single meditation block on the schedule, we were prompted to sit in an upright seated position on the yoga shala floor. Thank goodness for cushions and blankets for comfort. I think I had been looking forward to more outdoor meditation with the sun and breeze on my face.
If I had continued to read the website thoroughly I would’ve found this…
“The teachings will be a unique integration of Advaita Vedânta infused into seated and walking meditation, yoga and contemplative talks. Participants will be lovingly guided and introduced to various self-inquiry pointings and inspired to integrate these into their lives to continue to reveal and get acquainted with the truth that emerges from within oneself.”
We only ended up doing 1 walking meditation. And because it was a silent meditation retreat I’m not sure why “contemplative talks” were on the schedule.
The “talks” are where the retreat did not serve me. I thought I was signing up for a silent retreat but instead, it was one where the retreat organizer talked at or to us, quite a bit. And for me, that wasn’t something I was looking for. I was also not looking for her “lovingly guided pointings” as she was teaching from her “gurus”. She did not explain who they were, she kept pointing to old Indian men in picture frames around her house. I’m just not sure if more information about them would’ve helped me be more receptive to her “teachings”. To be honest, it just wasn’t something I was interested in hearing and the non-stop talking had a negative effect on my subconscious expectation of silence.
The retreat started on a Thursday evening and we left after lunch on Sunday. All day Friday and all day Saturday our schedule looked like this:
6:30-7:10 am – Meditation
7:20-8 am – Meditation
8:10-9:10 am – Yoga
9:30-10:30 am – Breakfast
10:30-11 am – Talk
11-11:40 am – Meditation
11:50-12:30 pm – Meditation
1-3 pm – Lunch + Contemplative Break
3-3:40 pm – Meditation
3:50-4:30 pm – Meditation
4:40-5:40 pm – Personal Sadhana
6-7 pm – Dinner
7-8 pm – Questions
8-8:40 pm – Meditation
I am impressed with how much meditation we did and I feel very proud of the time spent in meditation and enjoyed 99% of the sits.
There was also a slight annoyance in the accommodation my friend and I shared. We had a compost toilet and a propane shower. Not that I needed a shower but when I did try to use it wasn’t working and then when they finally got it working again the water was so hot it scalded me.
And finally, there was also an issue with the meals. After I had signed up, I received an email stating that the retreat space was plant-based. Because I eat an autoimmune paleo protocol-style diet I intake quite a lot of animal protein and I know that eating a vegan-style meal plan for 3+ days wasn’t going to serve me well. I asked for fridge space for animal protein (that I would cook and bring myself) and I was told the shala was a “flesh-free zone”.
After several emails going back and forth with the organizer, they offered to let me bring animal protein and leave it in the cabin I was staying in. I brought freeze-dried camping food with me so I could get several servings of protein each day. They provided me with hot water to add to the packets and I would return to the cabin each meal to make my “meat” and then add it to the dish they were serving and then eat on my own away from the group. The one thing that I did appreciate was after several emails the organizer offered to call me so we could discuss the issue and come to a mutual understanding. I very much appreciated that.
Interestingly enough, magically, after my emails with the organizer, this blurb appeared on the website:
“PLEASE NOTE: The Vichara Yoga Shala is an entirely plant-based, non-intoxicant & caffeine-free space. Meat, alcohol, psychotropics & coffee are not used on the property.“
I would have inquired about this before signing up. If I had been made aware of the rules ahead of time I might have reconsidered signing up. She has other retreats on her website now and this blurb isn’t on all of them so it’s a miss in properly communicating the parameters that she wants to uphold at the venue.
What The Silent Meditation Retreat Taught Me
I always love to get something out of an experience even if I didn’t thoroughly enjoy myself so let me focus on the things that I did learn.
- I can sit for 40 mins in meditation quite easily and quiet my mind. And that’s exactly what my mind & body needed from the retreat.
- I enjoyed being in a community with other women in complete silence and not feeling the need to talk. I thoroughly loved all the small smiles we would offer each other and it felt amazing to be in community with them.
- I can advocate for myself when I know that something won’t serve me well and compromise by bringing freeze-dried meat with me to ensure I was getting ample protein.
- I can be open to experiences but when it feels like I’m being talked to or indoctrinated into a way of thinking that I’m not openly looking for I will shut off and get defensive.
- I can go 3+ days without my phone and really enjoy being off the digital device.
- I really love to journal and although I was in silence my brain/mind was very active and needed to process a lot of thoughts on paper.
- When told we couldn’t even bring books I was a bit disappointed as I was looking forward to time in silence and perusing a book. This just goes to show that I’m craving more reading in my life. Funny enough we were told we could read books that were left around the shala.
All in all, I’m glad I went. I’m glad I experienced it.
But for the next “3-day silent meditation retreat” I think I’ll just book an AirBnB and do my own thing 🙂