For the majority of people, going a full day without any form of communication is difficult, especially going without technology. Certified meditation guru, mindfulness coach and author of Hot Mess to Mindful Mom, Ali Katz, did just that - but for over a week. Katz has recently returned from the ultimate getaway challenge, a 10-day silent retreat, where she was cut off from her family, friends and technology.
Preparing for a silence retreat is definitely not an easy task. Ali has shared her retreat experiences and how she prepared for the toughest, yet most rewarding and transformational challenge yet. Reason for Retreating: Instead of a typical 40th birthday gift, Ali decided to gift herself a 10-day silence retreat held in Kaufman, Texas. Ever since Katz’s meditation certification and after reading author Dan Harris’s experience on a retreat, Ali felt a calling to attend a session. The donation-based silence retreat is designed to help participants engage in the process of self-purification through self-observation, which is why silence is required and outside distractions, such as technology, are prohibited. Although it was difficult to go without her laptop or cell phone for over a week, Katz found it oddly freeing. “I was so sure that this was the right next step for my personal growth and development, as well as my meditation practice, and I had no doubts,” says Ali. Participants of silence retreats experience benefits such as fully coping with pain or suffering, making peace with what is so, experiencing a feeling of joy that comes from deep within and much more. Some even view it as a vital spiritual practice, as there are no distractions or outside forces that get in the way of assessing oneself.
The core benefit of this practice is to gain a deeper understanding of each participant’s physical and mental states. Ali Katz, a native Houstonian, began meditating and practicing mindfulness to heal emotional scars she experienced early on in her life. Her meditation has led to less anxiety, a passion to write, and helped her with character changes, such as patience and critical thinking. Using meditation, Katz has moved forward and learned from painful experiences, like her parent’s emotional divorce. First Reactions: “The reality of what I was about to do, and how disconnected from my family I was going to be, hit me like a tidal wave. The only way to calm myself down was to breathe and remember that I chose this,” Ali said. During the three and a half hour car ride to Kaufman, Katz’s nerves definitely kicked in. It was difficult to say goodbye to her two sons and husband for 10 days. She also was not allowed makeup, snacks, dinner, technology, and hardest of all, no access to the outside world beyond the retreat. Adjusting to her new life for the next 10 days, Ali followed the same routine on a daily basis. It consisted of a 4:00 AM wake-up call, eight daily meditations, and lessons from the teachers. Men and women were segregated the entire retreat, men on one side of the meditation hall and women on the other. As if being cut off from technology wasn’t a big enough challenge, Ali had to undergo noble silence, which means no talking, no gestures, and no eye contact. In order to re-acclimate to speaking and conversation, they were only allowed to speak on the afternoon of the previous day. “It was the most bizarre feeling. We were all giddy and felt almost high. My voice sounded weird and I was talking so fast,” says Ali. Post-Retreat:
As Ali adjusts back to her normal life in Houston, she will forever cherish this trip and all that it taught her. “It was crazy because when I woke up the next morning something was different. I felt calmer inside, more confident, and if this makes sense more ME. That’s when I knew I was on the other side of the storm. It is hard to even describe the feeling…I just knew something was a little bit different about me. That was the moment that I finally understood in my core why I’d come. It was to find a little bit more of ME” says Katz. This ten-day silent retreat was by far the most challenging, yet valuable and inspiring experience for Ali. “As I continue down my path I’ll find bits more along the way. So it turns out the perfect 40th birthday gift to myself was ME,” says Ali.