While in Bali, I had the chance to fulfill an interest that has been sparking my curiosity for a long time by spending a night at a silent retreat. While I don't think I stayed quite long enough to fully experience the plentiful benefits of time spent in silence, the retreat center provided a brief glimpse of all that can be gained from being alone with yourself in such a peaceful place.
Before my arrival, I was nervous. I had received recommendations, but I didn't think I would have enough time to go since I was (very sadly) only in Bali for four days and the retreat center is about an hour and a half outside of Ubud. Then it just so happened that I ended up with a free night and didn't have anywhere else scheduled to stay so I checked for openings and, after finding a few, made a reservation.
I wasn't sure when the silence would start. Would the van driver talk to me after picking me up? Would reception just hand me a bag and a list of instructions? How would I make travel arrangements to come back to the next day? All my concerns abated when I arrived to find the most cheerful and talkative Balinese woman waiting to check me in and show me around. The reception hut was an open talking zone, and she still toured me around the grounds in whispers after we had passed the white flags that started the zone of silence on the property.
My first surprise was at how much there was to do. There were five hours of guided yoga and meditation classes offered each day-- 2.5 in the morning and another 2.5 at night. Around the retreat center there were also many opportunities for more solitary mediation which could take place under a waterfall, in a labyrinth walking maze, or on a jungle trek through the woods. There was full library in the lounge and three mealtimes provided tasty, vegetarian, and organic buffets. There were lectures on green living, and frequent field trips where you could talk to the other guests. It was a light and delicious introduction to the more serious vipassana or ashram experience.
The second surprise was that dinner was set out between 4:30 and 6pm, right after the afternoon round of yoga and meditation. On the first day, I had to do some extra fast-paced jungle trekking to be ready for a meal at that time, but it helped to get into the habit of eating less and resisting the urge to try everything on the table... for the most part. It was a little uncomfortable to be around the other visitors without greeting anyone, but most people shared smiles and held doors for each other. Some even broke the rules a bit to mouth a "thank you".
The final surprise helped make sense of why dinner was so early. Since the retreat center runs efficiently on solar power, the lights in the main buildings turn off around 7, and most of my dorm mates were turning off their bed lamps to go to sleep at 8. It's a wonder how quickly our bodies adapt to the rhythm of nature when we don't have electronics to disrupt or entertain. I lay awake that night for a while listening to all the sounds outside, but eventually fell asleep feeling blessed to be in such a beautiful place.