We have thousands upon thousands of thoughts, every single day. I need to figure out dinner; what’s this guy honking at?; this meeting could have been an email; I have no idea how to deal with this; do I need to cut this person off?; what if I make the wrong choice? It’s a loud, loud world out there, made even louder still in our own minds.
Nader Wahba—hypnotherapist, NLP practitioner, and holistic healer who incorporates martial arts and movement in his practice—stumbled upon a simple truth a few years into his practice.
“It became clear to me that some people who come in, what they need isn’t necessarily a one-on-one session; they need to be outside, to connect to nature,” says Nader. “I started silent retreats as a way to incorporate something outside the context of the clinic or the therapy room. I wanted to make it accessible in a way that’s not associated with any religious or moral philosophy; it’s just a practical tool to help guide people to a place where they can connect with themselves—with their higher self if they want—through nature.”
Nader started organizing silent retreats in St. Catherine, at the foot of the South Sinai mountains, where participants meditate, hike, connect with nature, and—most critically—do not speak for three days.
If you’re anything like me, this sounds equal parts fascinating and terrifying. Connect with nature? Absolutely. Hike? Yes, please. Meditate between age-old mountains? I’m down. But three whole days in silence? It’s exciting and scary just to think about.
“Silent meditations aren’t easy, or they weren’t for me at least,” laughs Nader. “A lot of people come in with questions of ‘I don’t know if I’m going to make it, I struggle with anxiety, I don’t know if I’ll be able to silence my mind…’ but as the process flows, there’s a huge sense of pride, like you’re conquering something.”
But what happens in the middle, between the last and first words you speak? “On a regular day, I’ll have thousands of thoughts. But suppose I’m sitting in a place in nature, and I don’t speak, will the thoughts be the same? Usually, people naturally have less intrusive thoughts and less anxious thoughts when they don’t speak for a very long time.”
“When you reduce the constant stimulus of interaction — ‘you need to do this’, ‘you need to decide that’, ‘you need to react now’, etc. — and in that environment, when your mind is calmer, you can focus on everything else.”
We have an innate capacity to know what’s good for us
In an environment that allows us to be quiet, where no one asks anything of us, where we’re not expected to make small talk or form impressions or hold conversations or even react verbally to the little nothings that are always happening around us, something inside us stirs.
“What usually happens is people start getting answers to the questions they came in with, completely on their own,” says Nader. “When you’re in silence, a lot of solutions come up that are specific to you, that are prescribed for you, that you reach on your own.”
In our everyday lives, he explains, the distractions of life—laundry, traffic, errands, work—drowns out this voice inside us. By decreasing stimulus, we can better tap into what Nader calls “our innate capacity to know what is good for us.”
Equally as powerful is something that seems almost too simple, but is all the more true because of that: silence is space. Often, when things happen, when we’re hurt, when we go through periods of stress, we jump right back onto the hamster wheel of life.
In that case, the decision is a gift to ourselves: to take three days in silence, in stillness, in nature, to process emotions that otherwise get swept under the rug.
A reference for stillness, when we need it
But it’s temporary. The weekend will end, we’ll have to leave the sun-baked and storied mountains behind us, we’ll find our voices again, and the road takes us back to our busy, blistering cities. So what’s the point, right?
Not right. Though what every person takes away might be different, a pattern that Nader sees again and again is how people leave having learned to incorporate some silence and stillness into their days, taking those three days with them into the everyday.
“It gives your mind a reference,” Nader explains. “It gives it a point to come back to, like ‘remember when you were in a calm state, and you didn’t have to do much, you just had to be there with yourself?’”
Rather than simple nostalgia, having that very clear mental touchstone actually gives us a point to come back to. We know how it feels, and it makes it easier to create that state again, even if it’s just for an hour of intentional silence a day.
“It creates something that lets you think ‘I remember this feeling, I remember that.’ And then it’s going to be easier to build on it later.”
Learn more about Nader Wahba and book a free 15-minute consultation here.