Benefits of a 72-hour silent retreat

Recently I had a (thankfully rare) 3 week gap in my professional speaking engagements, plus my wife and son were away visiting family, so I decided to go on some writing retreats (my publisher’s deadline is looming).

I did 4 x 72 hour retreats. Two were in Catholic silent retreat centres in Hong Kong, two were in an empty flat in Singapore.

The experience was interesting, and amazing.

Especially at the two silent retreats, I can honestly say I got more writing done in 72 hours than I normally get done in a month.

A few key rules that helped:

1. Go offline completely (I had a brief, whispered call with my wife each night, otherwise, I was offline)

2. Don’t read books (I am an avid reader, but it was good to not read during the retreats – just write and ponder.)

3. Have healthy and fixed bedtimes and wake times. During the SG retreats, I kept writing late into the evening, and then couldn’t sleep, and got into a less creative cycle.

4. A proper silent retreat centre is much better than a hotel or an empty flat. (There are plenty of retreat centres around, even in a crowded city like Hong Kong. Catholics and Buddhists are especially at silent retreats. I think there are more secular ones around too. You’d have to research to see which are best for you. I’m a church-going Protestant, and the Catholic retreat centres are happy to have me. I’ve not yet been to a Buddhist one. It will also depend on what sort of creative work you are hoping to do).

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I know not everyone has the luxury of being able to be silent and go offline like that (because of both family and work commitments), but actually, I think, if we truly appreciate the benefits in terms of productivity and creativity (and some added depth to our spirituality – whether we are religious or not), we might be more determined to make it happen. Is it really not possible to organise one long weekend a year to do some serious creative work on something that needs your sustained attention – especially if you get it done in 3 days rather than a whole month!

I once heard an interview with Ed Catmull (Former President of Pixar – a pretty creative and productive company!), and he said he spends a week each year on silent retreat, and that is key to his success.

The other person who does a lot of silent retreats is Yuval Noah Harari (author of Sapiens, Homo Deus, etc) – and I think that, in part at least, explains the compelling clarity with which he makes his points in his popular books.

I am challenged to carve out considerably more time for silent retreats, though this will take quite a lot of discipline. But I know the benefits – for my writing, for my keynote speech writing, for my spirituality – are well worth it.

A few questions to finish (please post comments if you have thoughts or questions):

Do you have a creative project that needs your sustained attention, but you find your progress is incredibly slow?

Could you carve out one 72 hour retreat a year to focus on it?

If you have had any experience of silent writing retreats – any tips for the rest of us?

#silence #retreats #selfcare #focus #resilience