Editor’s Note: Most individuals look forward to spending a week-long break lounging on a beach, taking a cruise, or exploring another country. While she’s previously enjoyed these typical vacations, Danielle Legg decided she wanted to do something different--so the elementary principal headed for a week-long silent retreat in March. This Spring Break retreat offered Danielle a chance to get even more acquainted with her inner voice and deepen her spiritual practice. She graciously agreed to answer a series of questions about her retreat and encourages other women at midlife and beyond to consider trying this type of experience.
What has been your journey to spirituality?
I was raised in a family that did not attend church and there was no real mention of God. My father was an atheist and my mother—well, I just wasn’t sure. As a young child of 8 or 9, I knew in my heart there had to be something bigger than me, something that tied the universe together and connected us all, something that resembled love and peace and hope. I was sure of it. I felt I was missing something, not having been brought up in a church and having parents who were not grounded in any sort of belief that involved a higher power.
My father handed me a book called Autobiography of a Yogi when I was probably in my 30s and that opened my eyes to another way of thinking. He was on his own spiritual journey visiting ashrams in India, studying A Course in Miracles, and other types of experiences. He married a woman who was a Bahai, a religion I had never heard of. My mind started thinking and wondering and realizing that there was so much more out there.
In my early 50s, I met a group of ladies on their own spiritual journeys where no two journeys were the same. They were exploring their own spirituality through art, book studies, meditation, and a variety of other things. This led me to read and study more with them and on my own. I had heard about A Course in Miracles and began studying that pretty regularly. That is where I have landed currently. Everyone’s journey is different and all journeys are what is right for that person.
What prompted you to consider participating in a silent retreat?
I really wanted to get into meditation. I felt it was the next step for me in my journey. I had heard of Vipassana, which is an ancient Buddhist meditation, through my father and some friends. The organization, Dhamma.org, that teaches this meditation is run by donations and volunteers only.
Had you done anything like this before?
Not at all, but I love new experiences.
How did you find this silent retreat?
Dhamma.org takes you to different locations for these sessions, one of which is in Kaufman, TX. There are many locations around the United States and around the world.
What were the parameters for the retreat (beyond silence)?
After the orientation on the first evening, all participants were to display noble silence. That meant we all turned in our devices and committed to no reading or writing. Noble silence also meant not only not speaking but also no eye contact or gesturing. All meals were vegetarian. Men and women were separated and had no contact.
How long was it?
The retreat was 10 days and we were released on the morning of the 11th day.
How did you prepare for it?
I did not do a lot of preparation as I am a beginner and this is a beginner course. I did try out some meditation cushions and I did practice a little using some Youtube videos of Vipassana.
During the actual retreat, what was the hardest part?
I really enjoyed the silence but on Day 7 I hit a wall. I am not sure why Day 7 was so hard but I made an appointment to talk to the teacher for the next day. (You could sign up to talk to the teacher at specific times.) I think just having an interaction with her lifted me up and helped me get through the remaining few days.
Another challenge was that we meditated for about 10 hours a day. Having not had a meditation practice in place, I had to really work hard and be committed to the practice. We awakened at 4 a.m. and did not go to bed until 9 p.m. each day.
What was the easiest part?
For me the noble silence and turning in my phone were easy. I did not miss my phone or the connection to the outside world. I needed that break and was ready for it.
What lessons did you learn about life (or yourself)?
Through the silence, I noticed things that I would not have noticed otherwise, especially in nature. There were nature trails that you could walk during breaks. I noticed bees pollinating flowers, caterpillars making their cocoons, a friendly snake, armadillos, and rabbits. Things that I may have passed by had I been talking to someone or on my phone. I learned that a quiet mind notices and is present.
I had tried to sign up for the course previously and it never worked out. I realized that the timing was perfect for me to attend at this specific time and it was meant to be. The lesson is to let life flow and not attach too much to outcomes. It will happen when and if it is meant to happen. Either way, it is OK.
I have learned to slow down and listen intently to others and to my inner voice. I have more control over chatter in my mind and I have also noticed that my work on detaching from things and outcomes is steadily improving.
What was your experience in "reentering" society?
On the 10th day after morning meditation, you can speak. It was a little slow but eventually, it felt good to talk to others and process the experience. I had given a college student a ride to the site, so we were also able to talk and discuss the process. I went back to work immediately, the very next day.
How has it changed you?
I carry it with me each day. I have started meditating more and am working on a consistent routine. It's still a work in progress but I am getting there. I can already see I am more “thoughtful” in my thinking and my interactions with others. I am a better listener. My desire and ability to bring peace and love into the world continues, only now I feel better equipped.
I am more intuitive. I am detaching more and just letting things be. I am more “thoughtful” in my day-to-day interactions and tuned in to spiritual guidance.
Would you do it again?
Yes. Now that I’ve taken the 10-day beginner course that everyone is required to take, there are other shorter and longer courses that I can take.
What does this type of experience offer a woman who has reached midlife or beyond?
Many women in midlife are experiencing high stress in their jobs or family situations. They may be depressed or have anxiety. Through consistent Vipassana meditation, these things can be alleviated because much of it is carried in our minds. This practice gives us the skills to have deep control of the mind and the stories that are formed in the mind.
This practice offers a form of mindfulness that, if done consistently, can give women a deeper sense of peace through detaching from things and/or outcomes and accepting things as they are.
Please share what else you want readers to know.
Instead of traveling outward for spring break, I traveled inward and not having any outside distractions really added to the experience. Talking with one another, access to phones or the internet, or even reading a book would have lessened the experience. I understood why that was so important during the process. If you abide by the rules, you are forced to go deep within, which is a priceless experience if you are open to it.