Photography by Rudy Meyers
I head back to my cabin and attempt to meditate again, except this time my inner voice won’t be silenced. Why doesn’t so-and-so like me? I wonder what my boys are doing at home. What if I’m missing a really important email or text? Have I made the right decision about grad school?

This soundtrack continues on a loop, but no epiphanies spring forth. Then I remember the advice retreat general manager Patrick Mahoney gave me upon arrival. “Silence has its own intelligence,” Mahoney, who goes by the Sanskrit name Chaitanya, said. “The process takes time.” In other words: The answers will come, but only when I’m ready to hear them.

When it’s time for lunch, I walk at a deliberate pace to the dining hall, honoring another guideline of silence, which is to do everything in slow motion. “This way everything you do becomes a type of meditation,” Nischala had explained.

I begin listening to the crunch of pine needles beneath my boots, take in the heavy smell of wood smoke and marvel at winter’s bare elegance.
My senses become more acute, and I begin noticing flashes of vibrant color amid nature’s repose: plump, red berries; a few yellow blooms; the caramel hue of a pinecone.

Lunch is a frittata and roasted potatoes. (All meals are vegetarian.) I sit by myself at the “silent table” and, without anyone to talk to, absorb the warmth of the tea mug between my hands. For the first time in a long time, I feel truly grateful for the food before me and the efforts of the person who prepared it. At home, I rarely allow myself to get hungry, running to the refrigerator or vending machine at the first rumble of my empty tank.

I can overhear the conversation at a nearby­ table of a woman who has completed her stay. She remarks to several staff members how much she missed cheese and was hoping that that day’s lunch contained some serious cheddar. Me too! Me too! I want to say, nearly bursting like a grade-schooler with a raised hand. Then they start talking about movies. “You know that movie about dreams with Leonardo DiCaprio?” one of them says. “What’s it called?”

No one can remember.

“Inception!” I want to scream. “The title is Inception!”

The finished retreater, whose name I later learn is Mai, reveals that she handles public relations for a nonprofit in San Francisco and that this is her third silent retreat. This time, she came because she had been struggling over whether to end a relationship with an older man because he didn’t want children­ and, at age 35, she did. After four days in silence, she received her answer: “I decided our love was more important than bringing an extension of myself into the world.”