5 Takeaways From My Silent Retreat
Do you ever wonder how you get to where you are in life? I found myself this past weekend pondering that question. How did I go from being a rebellious pastor’s kid who hated going to church to voluntarily going to a silent retreat at Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House spending hours in silence. The only thing I could come up with was once God gets a hold of our heart, he doesn’t let go and when we surrender to God, there is no telling where that will take us.
The four days I spent at the silent retreat were profound. From the tranquility and beauty of the environment, to the slow pace and the deep connection to God, I would have to say it was one of the best experiences of my life. When I shared with some people that I was going to a silent retreat, the response often was, why would you want to do that? I will tell you why. Here are my five key takeaways from my silent retreat.
1. Gain Perspective
There is something about being out in nature looking out over the expanse of the universe that puts things in perspective. I found myself one morning standing in awe looking out at the snow-capped mountains of Colorado thinking how amazing God’s creation is. How often do we take our world for granted? It made me recognize how much I worry about things that are inconsequential. If God can create this beautiful landscape, then he surely can guide me through any problems I am currently facing. The time in silence helped me to let go of things that don’t matter. I gained perspective on what’s truly important in life. Spending time with God, slowing down, getting to know myself better, taking time to heal and find that inner peace in my own life so I can bring peace to the world.
2. Silence…The Path to Radical Inner Transformation
We get immune to the noise in our life. We have access to the TV, news, our cell phone and social media 24/7. We get used to cars whizzing by us all of the time. Noise is everywhere. I don’t think we truly know what to do with ourselves when there isn’t any noise. All of the noise in our lives keeps us from knowing ourselves.
I spent about five hours every day meditating in a group setting and by myself. I have been meditating off and on for about ten years so meditation isn’t new to me. As I do it more consistently and it becomes a bigger part of my life, I am recognizing that cultivating inner silence through meditation is the path to radical inner transformation. We can change ourselves by being in silence connected to God. I keep hearing this message over and over that God speaks to us when we are silent. Maybe that’s why we don’t want to be still, because we don’t want to hear what God has to tell us. I know there are plenty of things I don’t want to hear.
“God speaks in the silence of the heart. Listening is the beginning of prayer.” Mother Teresa
When we sit still and listen and then act on the guidance we are being given, there is a profound opportunity to experience radical inner transformation in our lives.
3. Love Ourselves Unconditionally
When I was meditating over the weekend it brought up a lot of stuff. One moment I would have tears welling up in my eyes from a painful memory or a bad choice that I made and in the next moment I would be smiling ear to ear with a beautiful memory in my life.
Part of meditation and cultivating inner silence is learning to let go and be in the present moment. How often do we get caught up in the past or worry about the future? I think one of the hardest things for me at times is to accept my life as it is. I can get caught up in the regret of past mistakes or beating myself up for not having learned a life lesson that I think I should already have mastered. Thoughts like that will destroy any hope of inner peace and joy.
What I learned over the weekend was how to love myself unconditionally when those thoughts popped up, and they came up a lot. It’s learning to let go of both the good and the bad memories and accepting where I am today. It’s accepting that everything that has happened in my life up to the present moment has been divinely orchestrated for my spiritual growth. Oftentimes things don’t make sense in our lives, but learning to accept the mystery of God and that we will never understand His ways because he is God and we are human. My job is to learn to love myself unconditionally. When I am able to do that, it allows me to love others unconditionally. That takes a great deal of inner work. I feel like I am still a beginner in this area. It’s a journey of a lifetime.
4. Where are the Men?
This doesn’t come from a place of judgement, but mere observation and curiousness. There were a total of twenty people at the retreat. Eighteen women and me and one other guy. This leads me to believe that men aren’t into silent retreats. I never thought in a million years I would go to a silent retreat, but I think it’s an experience everyone can benefit from. Granted my personality as an introvert probably lends itself to enjoying this type of setting. No awkward small talk at the dinner table. No superficial conversations. Just a deep connection to ourselves, one another and God in silence.
I have made it a practice over the last several years to get away by myself for several days at a time to ponder life and self-reflect. Those times have been the most powerful and life changing for me. I would love to try and do a thirty day silent retreat some time and see what that experience is like. Maybe someday in the future I will have that opportunity.
I believe one of the main reasons that men battle finding inner peace and joy in our lives is because we aren’t willing to sit still and listen to our inner voice. We just charge on full speed ahead forcing things to happen in our lives instead of being open to receive divine guidance. I know I have been guilty of that over the course of my lifetime.
The scripture that came up a lot over the course of the weekend was John 15:5
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
That scripture runs deep into my soul because so much of my life has been lived independent of God and his divine guidance. I have made many poor choices because I didn’t listen to God’s wisdom. I would venture to guess that most men would admit to living their lives that way and we have made numerous bad decisions because of this.
I am not saying that every man should go to a silent retreat, what I am saying that every man should be intentional about cultivating silence in our lives whether it’s twenty minutes in the morning, a day out hiking by ourselves or a long weekend in solitude. It will be the beginning of new found peace in your life.
5. Clarity of Purpose
So many men struggle with finding their purpose in life. I know it took me years to find my purpose and I am still getting clarity around what legacy I want to leave. As I sat still for hours and let things fall away, I could feel myself getting more clarity on how God wants to use me to make a difference in the world.
The first thing that I am being asked to do is to create a lifestyle of silence, solitude and simplicity. That has been put so strongly on my heart lately that I can’t ignore it. I am getting rid of a bunch of my stuff and working on creating a minimalist lifestyle. I feel materialism is getting in the way of living out my purpose to my fullest ability.
I am learning how to cultivate silence and meditation in my day to day life. This is the most consistent I have been in my meditation practice for years. It’s becoming a non-negotiable in my life.
Spending time alone has also brought me great clarity. For years I have been afraid of being alone desperately grasping for the next relationship hoping that would make me whole. What God is showing me is that I am whole on my own. I don’t need to be in a romantic relationship to be whole. God is asking me to trust him and to live out my purpose with all of my heart and soul. He knows the perfect life partner for me and that will happen in his perfect timing.
I feel like my purpose is to model what an introspective path looks like for men in the modern world we live in. To model what it looks like to free ourselves from our prison of fears that we keep ourselves in. I certainly don’t have it all figured out. I am learning day by day of what it means to stop defending my ego and drop my old identity. I am still clinging on to parts of the old Troy that aren’t serving me any more. I am learning to give myself grace knowing this is a lifetime of doing my inner work.
I am finding that I am loving my inner soul more every day as I get comfortable with who I truly am. I am a son of God who appreciates a life of silence, solitude and simplicity. I don’t need to apologize any more or feel ashamed for who I am and how God created me.
I hope that you will find time to create silence in your life, whatever that looks like for you. Maybe it starts with five minutes of meditation in the morning. Maybe it’s a daily walk in nature by yourself or maybe it’s something crazy like going to a Jesuit retreat center for days at a time. Regardless of how you decide to spend time alone, the best thing you can do for yourself, your loved ones and your community is to create space in your life for silence and simply listening for divine guidance.
Spiritual Warrior Coach
Founder and Creator of Barbells & Brothers