How Silence Can Help Us Connect Deeply With Ourselves And Others

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Apr. 12 2024, Published 8:00 a.m. ET

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What is it that propels a person to seek the promise of deep silence? Why would a person sign up for a silent retreat, where you travel inward, forgoing speech and welcome mediation for multiple days at a time?

For me, it was grief that brought me to explore silence. It whispered to me that there was something worth discovering at my first meditation retreat in the remote Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. While it was pain that brought me to silence originally, it was the joy of connection that has kept me returning to the practice.

Is this silence’s secret alchemy? I knew that with each foray into silence, something within me softened. Craving more understanding of the practice, I spoke with Jess Frey, who leads silent retreats at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health.

“Silence actually allows us to see the beauty and awe and wonder of life and be able to hold both chaos and delight, pain and gratitude,” Frey shared.

Speaking With Soul In Silence

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When I asked Frey what brought her to seek silence, she responded with one word: “Suffering.” It’s an entryway she sees retreat participants pass through time and time again.

How is it that, in our darkest hours, there is a part of us that knows what we need to heal?

“I would call that soul, which is the essence of who each of us is. And that never really goes away. It just gets clouded by the suffering,” she said.

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When someone embarks on a silent retreat, they’ve set the intention to lift these clouds and start relating once again with what’s underneath. “What’s going to come up when you stop and sit still is everything that you’ve been avoiding and dismissing,” she added. While this sounds scary, especially when we’ve been brought up in cultures that encourage us to suppress and numb our pain, there are hidden gifts in this process.

“What if we meet our pain and suffering like, this has something to show me to teach me that can actually guide me?” she asked. “There’s wisdom here that will support the unfolding of the next step beyond the cycle of suffering.”

In my experience, when we open to this wisdom, we start rebuilding our relationship with some of the deepest parts of ourselves, and when we choose to connect and witness our pain, we choose to strengthen our relationship with ourselves- which prepares us to connect more deeply with others.

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Practicing Silence In Everyday Life

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While many feel the call to explore silence in community through silent retreats, you don’t have to travel to a meditation or yoga center to start working with the wisdom of silence in your everyday life. “Silence is an invitation to shift from our initial addicted mode of doing into a place of being,” Frey said.

You can start accepting the invitation by establishing a meditation practice, and according to Frey, meditation can be so much more than sitting down on your cushion.

“Meditation doesn’t have to be so tight and rigid,” she said. “Like for me, I’m a painter, an artist, that’s meditation. I also play music. So that is also meditation. In the summertime, I love to be in my garden. All that stuff is meditation.”

The important work for each of us, she added, is to find those things that absorb our spirit and senses into the present moment, where we’re able to express presence and curiosity- two foundational elements of meditation.

How To Deliberately Tap Into Silence

Since most of our lives are structured to keep us busy, developing these practices takes intention and practice. To get ourselves out of the busyness default, Frey recommends repeated self-inquiry.

“Find little moments to salt and pepper throughout my day, to check in and say, ‘What am I feeling? ‘What’s happening here? What do I need?” she said. “That is acting from the wisdom.”

Practicing over time helps us develop a deeper comfort with intimacy, she said. When we increase our ability to be intimate with the here and now, we are able to bring this new, expanded capacity for connection to ourselves and others- and, as Frey says, “to the beauty of life that often gets missed when we are rushing through our life.”

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By: Natalli Marie Amato

Natalli Amato is a journalist and poet based in Saratoga Springs, New York. She covers wellness, relationships, and culture for Her Agenda, Spirituality & Health Magazine, Saratoga Living, and others. Natalli has authored four poetry collections, the most recent being 2023's 'North Wind.' Natalli is currently earning her master's degree in Marriage and Family Therapy.

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