Bex vanKoot and her husband went on a ten day silent retreat. What they came home with was far from what Bex was expecting.
I knew going into a ten-day silent retreat with my husband in tow that any expectations I had would just get in the way of the experience. And yet, I found myself convinced that it would mark some profound , world-shifting change between us.
I wanted to come home and say, “Silent meditation changed my life.” I hoped that our entire communication strategy would shift. I fantasized about how incredible our post-retreat sex would be. My daydreams were filled with the incredible spiritual and philosophical conversations we would have, sharing all our insights and experiences.
He wanted to support me in my work and to get through it without dying of boredom. Neither of us got what we thought we wanted. But both of us got exactly what we needed.
Eckhart Tolle, in the Power of Now, writes: “To offer no resistance to life is to be in a state of grace, ease, and lightness. This state is then no longer dependent upon things being in a certain way, good or bad. It seems almost paradoxical, yet when your inner dependency on form is gone, the general conditions of your life, the outer forms, tend to improve greatly.”
In the aftermath of expectation-bottom-drop, these three realizations got me through.
- It isn’t the life-changing event itself, but the way we learn and grow together afterwards, that makes the experience truly worthwhile.
The disappointment I felt when my expectations weren’t met led to some deep, intense soul-searching. What did I want from my life and my relationship at that moment? What was missing for me? There were some hard talks and late nights.
Things don’t change overnight, even after the most profound spiritual experiences. My partner and I do a lot of traveling and adventuring together. When I was able to look back on our experiment with silence as just another one of these adventures, I began to see how all of our attempts at having shared new experiences became, in their own way, life changing events. Even, or especially, when our actual perceptions of our experiences are so very different.
- My partner doesn’t have to believe the things I believe for us to share these kinds of experiences and benefit from them. And we don’t need to do everything together in order to enjoy traveling as a couple.
When we were finally able to talk and share our thoughts after ten days in silence at the Hridaya Yoga Center in Mazunte, Mexico, I was gushing with praise for the meditation techniques, so excited about the experiences I’d had and convinced that the two of us would walk off in blissful meditative coupledom, each of us with someone to help support us in bringing our practice forward.
What we actually discovered was that my partner didn’t particularly find the techniques useful or beneficial to him, wasn’t interested in continuing his studies or his practice, and in many ways felt that the philosophies didn’t speak to him.
I was hurt. And defensive. And angry.
But the conversations in the weeks that followed brought important issues to light. My husband joined me in silence because he wanted to show his support for my desires and dreams, to communicate that he believes in me.
Realizing that my interests and his differ so, we were able to determine what things I actually need from him in order to feel supported, so he can spend more time pursuing interests of his own. And he was able to look back on the meditation retreat as we worked together during three weeks of yoga education, finding new insights and gems of wisdom to apply to his own life throughout.
- Ten days isn’t that long.
My partner and I have rarely been apart for long. We both work from home, so we spend a great deal of time together ever day. When we travel, we do it as a team. We share social groups and most of our non-internet leisure time is spent as a couple.
Sometimes all that togetherness can get to be a bit much. Sometimes what we both need is our own space to have ideas, to dream big, to make decisions, to think about what we want out of life, how we want to spend our time.
I know a lot of couples who struggle to spend enough time together, but our challenge is finding a little bit of privacy. Even though we shared a room, slept only a few feet away from each other, and saw each other throughout every day, that week and a half of true silence taught us to be aware and attentive without being invasive.
We are finally finding some autonomy in our shared space. We spend less time on trivial chatter. We give each other more space to be ourselves. And we are slowly learning that sometimes, less really is more. With each choice to stay silent, we find the energy and time to make the interactions we do have consciously more connected and meaningful.
How often do you give your partner “the silent treatment?” Do you think you could choose it as a conscious, consensual practice?
Photo: Flickr/Georgie Pauwels