Talking is something of a habit, I find. Don’t you? It’s second nature to chat, to go over problems with a mate, and see how you can try and resolve things. Often over a glass of fizz or wine, and dinner.
So when I heard of the silent walking retreat, a whole week of walking without making a sound, I wondered if I’d manage it. Would I, a constant chatterer and muller over of problems, manage to keep quiet for hours on end?
Or would I relent, be found running down a hillside screaming for conversation? Only one way to find out I decided…
Walking in Spirit is run by Frankie Sikes, who has trained in NLP, or neurolinguistic programming, as well as being something of a mindfulness expert.
You might have heard of mindfulness – a modern form of meditation, in a way. It’s all about focusing inwardly, instead of looking outwardly for answers. Walking in Spirit seemed to me to be something of an emotional retreat – so while we might all head to the gym, or start a new eating regime to embrace 2015, this is more of a break and re-boot for your mind.
The retreat itself was in the Somiedo National Park in Northern Spain. We flew to the capital of the region where this park is nestled – Asturias. From there we headed to the small, basic and very cosy La Piniestra guesthouse, at the far end of a small village. After introductions over dinner in a local taverna, we headed to bed, ready for the challenge the next day.
I like to talk – a lot. Nobody I know would ever tell you I’ve been lost for conversation.
On day one, as we set off past grazing cows, I couldn’t even utter a ‘moooooo’ which is what I’d normally have done (wouldn’t you?). The challenge had begun. We only kept silence when walking, so in the evenings we could talk if we wanted to. But during those four hours of the first day, it was total silence.
Argh! That first day was torturous! Because of course the minute you’re asked to NOT do something, it’s all you want to do, isn’t it?
We’d been asked to keep the pace of the slower walkers, which I struggled with at first, but soon found that a slower, calmer pace was actually what I needed. No stomping off up the hill for me! It was time to just chill the hell out. Easier said (or not, in this case) than done.
Enjoying The Silence
On the second day, the walk took us higher still, on a steep path, lodged on the very side of the hill. Scattered with flint like stones, it was something of a gentle precipice, and as we climbed I found the anger bubbling inside me – and mounting.
The best way to describe it really was a PMT style toddler tantrum. I longed to kick the stones, to shout, scream and throw all my toys out of the pram. But I couldn’t. I had to deal with it. It grumbled in my all morning. We reached a corner, and I thought ‘Good. We’re at the top, we can turn around. I want a glass of wine.’
But no. As we rounded the corner I saw just there the stretch of the rest of the hill before me. It had just been a corner.
We were just at a corner. Oh yes, have a giggle, see the irony and of course the imagery. But it hit hard – in a good way. I realised that in so much of my life, but especially relationships, I look for a final end result. In that moment, as the hill stretched on in front of me, I relaxed into the realisation that life is like that long walk. It carries on.
The Internal Conversation
With nobody to joke and banter with or even offload my feelings to, I had to address my moods and motivations even further on the final two days of walking. The scenery itself added to the process. With nothing but the hills, the wildlife, the gorgeous greenery around rather than the angry crowds of the London underground, my thoughts travelled even further towards a peaceful place.
It was exactly what I’d needed. Some peace, to calm my mind, along with the chance to meet some like-minded women, which the group consisted of.
At the end of the week, we all sat on the beach down by the Asturian coastline where we’d gone on the first day we arrived.
I’d joked through the week that I’d hoped to lose some weight walking every day.
Well thanks to some Rioja and hearty meaty meals, I hadn’t lost a pound. But I do believe I dropped weight emotionally, and perhaps that’s even better.
Walking in Spirit is booking for retreats in Summer 2015. To find out more go to www.walkinginspirit.co.uk.