A silent retreat can be a wonderful opportunity to withdraw from the hustle and bustle of daily life, de-stress, and find some peace and quiet. It can also be an opportunity to get to know yourself again, meditate on your life, present or future, or whatever you want it to be.
There are a lot of places in the US that offer retreat facilities, either as a structured or non-structured program, in groups, or individually. These centers and programs have their merits, but if you have time or budget constraints, you don't have to travel at all to spend time in quiet contemplation and reflection. You don't have to clear your schedule for a long period of time. Even one day spent in silence can have a huge impact. With a little planning, you can retreat at your own home, and have an experience as fulfilling as one you would get at a retreat center.
Essential elements to a silent retreat are:
You need to be alone, and in a quiet place. This could mean being by yourself in your house or apartment, or in a secluded part of the house where you won't be disturbed by other people or their noise. If you live with people who will respect your retreat and keep their distance, while also keeping the noise down, you can retreat with them present. But remember, it's about being alone, with yourself, so sitting with someone else, even if you're silent, doesn't really count.
Your space needs to be comfortable, since you'll be doing lots of meditating, sitting quietly, reading, writing etc. Make sure you have chairs, pillows, cushions, etc. You might also want things that smell good, (candles, incense, pot pourri, etc.), and music or nature sounds to set the mood and help you get relaxed and stay that way.
It may be difficult to stay focused, at least at first, so it's best to remove everything that could be a distraction, mainly, the TV, computer, cell phone, video games. Remove any work you might have to do, unfolded or dirty laundry, etc. If you have a calendar with chores or deadlines written on it, and it's in view, you might want to put it away, so you won't be reminded of what's waiting for you. Let your friends, family, co-workers know that you are planning on being out of touch, and ask them to contact you only in an emergency. Turn off the ringer on your phone, and turn down the volume on your answering machine, if that applies.
All kinds of things might come to you as you sit in the silence and listen to your thoughts, so make sure you have a journal or notebook, pens, crayons, pencils, art paper, etc. to capture it all. If you have books of a spiritual or inspirational nature that you want to read, have them available, as well as music, musical instruments, or anything else that helps you relax, find peace, meditate, and express yourself.
Your retreat process can be anything you want it to be, in any format, but here are some things to consider trying:
If you already meditate, you know what to do. If not, just sit quietly, clear your mind, and listen to the thoughts that come up. You'll likely get thoughts of things you have to do, being bored, etc, but push them away, and get quiet again. Contemplate God, yourself, life, nature.
You can write down thoughts that come to you as you meditate or think, or you might want to make free writing (writing for a set period of time without editing or thinking about what you're doing) part of your routine. If you free write, don't re-read what you've written until after your retreat is done.
Being in the moment
A good time to do this is when you're preparing and eating your food. Think about every action you're taking, getting fully into the action. For instance, if you're taking bread out of the bag, notice the sound the bag makes, then how the bread feels in your hands. As you eat, take your time and really notice how it tastes, how it feels in your mouth. If you're looking at nature outside your window, really notice the leaves on the trees or the sound of the birds singing. Whatever you're doing, pay attention to every detail of it.
All in all, it isn't about the place you retreat, or how you do it, but what happens during it, how you grow, what you learn, what you experience. And with the right preparation and attitude, you can retreat anywhere. Even your own home.