Free your mind: The perks of a silent retreat
A first-timer and a frequent enroller, both with highly stressful jobs, discuss their journeys from anxiety and impatience to calmer introspection.
Anshul Jain, 37, is a director at an events and experiential marketing firm in Mumbai. It’s the fifth-most-stressful job in the world, he says (after soldier, firefighter, pilot and police officer; he’s given the matter quite a lot of thought).
The past year has hit his industry hard. Add to that the stress of daily living and trying to have a personal life, and about a year in, Jain decided he’d had enough.
In February, he signed up for a three-day silent retreat at a meditation centre in Goa. He arrived, handed over his phone and his watch and took an oath of silence. All day, he and the other participants did yoga and meditated, the tranquil hours punctuated by simple vegetarian meals.
“It was the first time in my 20-year career that I had taken such a break,” he says. “I was actually sleeping more than 10 hours a night!”
The first morning was hard. “I worried about the clients, worried that someone on my team might really need to reach me,” Jain says. Then he headed out to his yoga session, followed by breakfast, yoga, meditation, lunch, and a whole lot of free time to do nothing.
“I settled into the idea that I had to let go of work. But then there was a bit of anxiety trying to figure out what to do with all that time,” he says, laughing. “This was my biggest challenge, because when you don’t have anything to do, you start to look at your life, your future. You start to ask yourself why you were running so fast.”
As he worked his way through his thoughts, he began to commune with nature, Jain says. “You begin to hear the rustling of the trees, the birdcalls, the monkeys, the rooster.” On the third day, it was time to leave and he didn’t want to.
“The most important thing I learnt is that taking time out for myself is vital,” he says. “Business will go on, clients will call. But self-care is the most important thing. I want to do another retreat, for longer this time, hopefully in the monsoon.”
Silent retreats are not new to India. Silent, simple living has been a guiding tenet for Buddhist monks for centuries. Short-term Vipassana retreats have been part of urban life for decades. The idea isn’t for it to be easy or relaxing, as Jain found. It’s meant to push you to recognise yourself more clearly, see your frustrations, tame your impatience. This quality time with oneself, while somewhat intimidating, can become a craving.
Tejaswi Chittar, 30, a chartered accountant from Bengaluru, is among the scores who signed up for a Vipassana retreat once and now prefers not to go a year without one. Chittar signed up for his first 10-day silent retreat in Bengaluru in 2018, then did another in Lumbini, Nepal, in 2019.
It didn’t get easier the second time around, he says. You can expect to go through periods of intense anxiety, periods of impatience. And then, if you’re lucky, you reach a point where your thoughts are still there, but you feel freed from their hold.
Extended silent retreats help bring balance to your life, tackle issues with more perspective, be more patient and less reactive, Chittar says. And so he plans to return every year, to a Vipassana retreat in a different part of the world.