BY NICOLE POLLASTRINI
Wellness is a major theme woven throughout the Southern California lifestyle. You don't have to go far to find a juice bar, farm-to-table restaurant or a local farmers market. One of the most unique aspects of Southern California is our perfect year-round weather, making outdoor sports and activities a daily ritual for thousands of residents. Plentiful in arts and culture, we also have the benefit of an abundance of spaces to experience spiritual practices such as meditation, sound baths, sacred ceremonies and prayer.
As a Southern California native, I have had each of these wellness avenues at my fingertips my entire life. And still, as a mother of three, a businesswoman and an empath, I often find myself so overwhelmed with life that it is hard for me to fit my own wellness practices into my daily routine. Over the past two years, I have been on a quest to engage in sacred ceremonies as often as I can simply to reboot, re-center and remain mindful of the important things in life. To me, these are my family, my connection to the divine and my love for community. Through my search to find a deep inner peace within myself, I have become aware that I need breaks from the hustle and bustle of life happening around me. On the day-to-day, this may look like driving without any music, taking a hike when I find an hour to myself, or waking up 20 minutes before my household to pray and meditate before my day begins. But sometimes — even this is not enough.
When I first heard about the Silent Stay Retreat, I immediately thought, "Yes! I need this!" The thought of having three days of silence and meditation sounded like a dream vacation from motherhood and work. But, as the retreat approached, I began to worry. Three days of silence. Pure silence. No phone and no laptop. No children to tend to (this was my biggest concern). No daily recap with my husband. Just me and my thoughts. These thoughts became daunting, but I was committed. I did need this. I kept reassuring myself that everything will be 0K while I'm gone. It was only one weekend, and it would be good for me to get a break because you know what they say — you can't pour from an empty cup. And I was feeling drained.
On the day of my departure, I was nervous. I packed a book, a pen and some paper, a face mask and, of course, a pedicure set because it's something I never have time to do at home. I kissed my family goodbye and drove up the coast to the beautiful city of Montecito, just south of Santa Barbara. When I approached the property, I was blown away by the variety of foliage and the massive trees that line the driveway. Upon check in, I was invited to explore the premises, which I did gladly. It was gorgeous. There were so many flowers, succulents and different trees to admire. It was so quiet. Not just quiet from human voices, but quiet from the sound of cars, city life and technology. I took it all in. I found a spot on the lawn, closed my eyes and listened to the sound of the birds, the wind in the trees and even the sound of my feet in the grass. This was a first for me. The air was crisp, and the sun felt good on my arms. When I opened my eyes, there were three majestic deer crossing the road. It was surreal. I felt frozen in time.
Another retreat attendee was about 10 feet away and we looked at each other in amazement. I could tell we wanted to proclaim how lucky we were at that moment, but given that this was a silent retreat, we just smiled awkwardly at each other. Clearly, both of us were at our first silent retreat.
Orientation was our first meeting as a group where we got to know our leaders, Ruth and Bruce Davis. Ruth has a gentle spirit and a calm to her that felt very safe and inviting. She has devoted her life to her spiritual journey and guidance to others, beginning at the age of 16 in 1968 when she embraced Surat Shabd Yoga as her spiritual path. Shortly thereafter, she began visiting holy sites in India throughout the Punjab region, Hardwar, Rishikesh, Varanasi and Chennai. She is a dedicated student of "Vedic, Tantric wisdom & Mystic Catholicism, with particular connection to the teachings of Ramana Maharshi, the silent saint." Bruce is a spiritual psychologist who teaches "the essence of world religions, how psychology and spirituality intertwine offering a more integrated, centered and fulfilling life." He has been guiding retreats all over the world since 1983, emphasizing deep connection to silence, simplicity and heartfulness. He is incredibly gifted in guiding others; he is a comforting support for those who have had near-death experiences or spiritual awakenings by helping them integrate these profound experiences into their everyday lives.
Ruth explained, "In the quiet, we open to this inner place of love and beauty that is always present, but mostly covered up by busyness. The gift of silence is having nothing to do, nothing to say, having quiet time to enjoy solitude, gentleness and a quiet mind. We entered into our first 30-minutes of silence, and it was one of the most comfortable and relaxing experiences I have had in a very long time. I definitely needed this.
The rest of the weekend was filled with many personal a-ha moments, a few stretches of time where the silence felt overwhelming, and some life-changing meditations that reminded me to slow down in my daily life in order to experience it all in its fullness. Bruce shared stories from their retreats abroad. He shared treasured lessons from other cultures and really spoke to the heart of the group. We must stay connected to our inner hearts. We must spend time in silence, away from the noise, away from the daily grind. We must stay grounded in love and share this love with everyone we encounter. Since I've returned home, I have adopted this practice of spending time in silence every day. Some days, I spend more time in silence than others, but it is a simple and accessible practice that has brought me profound peace. It is amazing how something so easy can be so hard to do. But, remaining mindful of the necessity of silence has really been pivotal in how I approach this as a spiritual practice, rather than just a mental break in my busy day. It is something we can all do, no matter our lifestyle, schedule, background or beliefs. We can be in silence with ourselves, accessing our true inner hearts and connecting to the divine whenever we feel like we need it. It is a beautiful gift.
Bruce and Ruth have been offering heartfulness silent retreats all over Europe and Bali since 1993. In 2000 Ruth and Bruce founded the Assisi Retreat Center, a Temple to the World Religions in the heart of the ancient city of Assisi Italy and opened Silent Stay Assisi in 2002. Along with helping people gather through the beauty of silence, they also love to help people learn how to meditate. Ruth offers transformational one-on-one Spiritual Heart Awareness sessions where her students will "learn how to meditate as if they have been meditating for 50 years." They are an inspiring couple who work in unison to give retreat attendees a memorable and impactful spiritual experience through silence and mediation.
Ruth explained, "A silent retreat is an opportunity to find your inner calm. Adjusting to all the stresses of daily life can be overwhelming. Jobs, families, relationships, health and finances are constantly pulling on our attention.
And it would seem a stretch to find a place of calm inside. 'When, where, how' might naturally be the response. What we have found on silent retreat is that the very first step we all must take is to want that calm so much you are willing to take the steps to create for yourself. Many of us think of a spa day or a nature walk, playing sports or riding.
These are very important. Because the first thing we have done is turned our awareness to an activity that brings joy, and YES, even calm. Attending a silent retreat helps us develop more access to the inner calm that awaits you in your heart."
To learn more, visit silentstay.com or assisiretreats.org.
Ruth and Bruce offer partial scholarships to mothers to support them as they raise their children.