The bell rang.
Noble silence ended. I stood in a circle of 33 people, and during the past four days, we had not spoken. We hadn’t even looked at each other in the eye.
We hadn’t used phones or computers, listened to music, read books, or written. We’d spent four days together at a silent meditation retreat, where all of those actions are forbidden. And now that it was over, now that I could do all of those things again, I cried.
At 41, I achieved a quiet mind for the first time since infancy. This calm was hard won. The first two days of the retreat were a combination of boredom, emotional exhaustion, and physical pain. Remove distractions and movement, and things get uncomfortable. Three days into the retreat, however, my mind and body settled. During the last 24 hours, my mind could rest in the present moment—not just for seconds at a time, my usual meditation experience—but it could linger there. I can’t overstate the peace this brings.
Within an hour of that bell, I’d leave this retreat center in the North Carolina woods to return to my real life in Charlotte. Only my phone knew how many texts and emails awaited me. My peace had the shelf life of a ripe avocado.
Before the retreat, the challenge seemed to be surviving four days without talking, texting, or scrolling. A bigger challenge followed: how to bring zen home.