“Silence is a true friend who never betrays” – Confucious
So here I was, on a Friday evening, beholding the dazzlingly white full moon, surrounded by the black silhouettes of vast mountains, caressed by an icy alpine breeze, with an orange cat called Paprika curled in my lap, hearing the sound of… howling wolves?! At first I thought it might be a parea (group) of inebriated youngsters possessed by the lunatic spirit at a nearby village, but later it was confirmed to me that jackals roam free nearby. I had just finished a gentle but somewhat awakening evening yoga class, the first of several to take place during a weekend retreat organised by Athens-based yoga teacher Tina Myntz Zymaraki. And only minutes ago I had just embarked on my journey into silence that was to last until Sunday afternoon.
Other participants walked by beaming “good evening!” smiles on their way to the dinner hall in the super-elegant Noosfera main house, and feeling a rumble in my tummy I decided to follow suit. Decorated in a neo traditional English country style that soothes both eye and spirit, the living room / dining room area was imbued by silence, and all I could hear was the sound of the flames dancing in the fireplace and cutlery delicately clanging on plates. A woman in her 50s who was clearly there with her bestie was cracking up so much she ran out of the room with her hands over her mouth as her friend cried with laughter into her soup. This would take some getting used to.
As we ate delicious pumpkin soup followed by a mountain of quinoa, lentil, orange and fresh herb salad and toasted wholewheat pita breads with hummus, my fellow silence-vowers and I avoided eye contact with each other, as Tina had encouraged us to. The Silence Retreat aims to encourage actually immersing yourself deeper into your being by disengaging from the outside world, she told us, not simply zipping your mouth and throwing away the key.
Let me set the scene of where I was before telling you how my journey into silence unfolded. Noosfera Centre, built especially for wellness and holistic retreat workshops of all varieties, is located in the Peloponnesian mountains, near Xylokastro. Arriving in the dark, I couldn’t see the magnificent views that delighted me the following morning – mountains carpeted in thick greenery, smoky valleys, patches of traditional villages here and there, a gleaming snowy peak and a relieving (for us sea aficionados) strip of blue in the distance.
Noosfera is a new generation holistic hideaway, lovingly created five years ago by journalist-turned-author (of six books, including the bestseller Mystic Odyssey) and therapist Ioulia Pitsouli and psychologist / psychotherapist Maria Xifara, who live here for half a week throughout the year, as holistic wellness and psychology seminars of all varieties take place.
The main house and accommodations are all built in low wooden cottages decorated in a rustic yet modern style, with accessories like fluffy Guy Laroche towels and flocculent duvets. And fascinatingly enough, this is the only place in Europe where the rooms are wired with hi-tech sockets created especially for Hemi-Sync audio meditation (binaural beats) workshops exactly like they are at The Monroe Institute in the US.
I’d wanted to try a silence retreat for many years, so I jumped at the chance to do so when this workshop came up. The concept was to spend two days doing our best at staying schtum and combining that with soothing yet not undemanding yogic practice, which offered us valuable knowledge about restorative asanas and self-care. The location and the practice of silence gave us all the golden opportunity to take time for ourselves, while feeling warmly united in a rare experience.
The chance to do yoga as well as read inspiring books, go for nature walks, write, sleep, meditate, and relish above all in discovering how through being silent our senses were so enhanced was precious to me. After cuddling the cat I realised my jacket was a little stinky, and I decided to air it on the terrace on the room I was sharing with two girls; for some reason I ventured to try and wordlessly re-enact the reason why – first I pretended to be a cat, with the walk and the tail (my arm) and pointy ears, then myself cuddling the cat, then myself smelling my malodorous jacket, which I needed to air. They looked at me and laughed, and I had no idea whether they thought they were rooming with a madwoman. It was at that moment that I decided that as amusing as it could be (especially for others!) it was probably best to not bother at all with voiceless social banter.
There were numerous joys that came from silence – food tasted more flavoursome and physical sensations like a hot shower before bed or the softness of the duvet weren’t just nice but blissful. The friendly glances between participants, without a need to talk about our stories and all the lines that go with them was appeasing. The colours of the greenery blanketing the mountains and the blues of the sky and charcoal of the clouds seemed more heightened, as was the silence of the landscape itself. I wasn’t even tempted to ‘cheat’ and go online, in fact the disconnection felt deeply rewarding.
Our silence was broken on Sunday afternoon and followed by a conversational lunch, after which we all went our separate ways. I felt changed as a result, my body more open (and in some places a tiny bit sore, but still grateful) from the yoga, my mind more quiet and clear, my heart infused with gratitude that I’d been able to experience this.
I returned to the fracas of Athens renewed, feeling as if I’d connected with a new awareness in myself, one that comes from even 24 hours of silent observation. Like most of the others I felt I could have stayed a little longer, and was a little sad to have to return to reality, yet peaceful enough to accept that each place – both within and without us – has its loud and quiet gifts, and if only we make a conscious effort to honour wherever we are and connect to our inner silence we will instantly reconnect with peace.