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'Sit, Walk, Don't Talk': An Author Finds Comfort At A Silent Meditation Retreat

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'Sit, Walk, Don't Talk': An Author Finds Comfort At A Silent Meditation Retreat

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'Sit, Walk, Don't Talk': An Author Finds Comfort At A Silent Meditation Retreat

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When we have a problem, we're often encouraged to talk about it with a friend, a family member or a professional, like a therapist. But what if the answer is silence? In the new book "Sit, Walk, Don't Talk," Jennifer Howd takes us into the world of silent meditation retreats, which sometimes can last a week or more and where, as you can imagine, there's not a lot of talking. Jennifer Howd joins us from our studios at NPR West to tell us more. And you are going to talk to us today, I assume (laughter).

JENNIFER HOWD: Yes, yes. I will be speaking.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right - so explain briefly for those of us who may not know, what is a silent meditation retreat?

HOWD: Well, a silent meditation retreat is basically a retreat where you go, often, to a meditation center. And you are meditating in silence...


HOWD: ...For days on end (laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Days and days.

HOWD: Yes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Terrible events, you know, often send us to search for spiritual support. And you begin your book explaining why you decided to go on a silent retreat.

HOWD: Yeah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What prompted you?

HOWD: I moved from New York City to Los Angeles with an ex. And the relationship was a bit of a toxic one and abusive at times. And it kind of blew up in a Lifetime movie of the week (laughter) type of moment. And I was kind of left standing there saying, how did I end up in this position? And I realized it was because I hadn't been paying attention to my life.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tell us a little bit about what a typical day consists of at a program like the one you were on.

HOWD: The typical retreat experience is waking up very early in the morning.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Like 4 a.m. or something - 4 or 5 a.m.

HOWD: Yeah. Yeah, often that early - and then sitting for, usually, around 30 to 45 minutes, and then a bell rings, and you often walk for the same amount of time. And then you kind of alternate between walking and sitting and walking and sitting. And there are meals in between. And then often in the evening, there will be some sort of talk by the teachers on the subject of meditation or mindfulness.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And all this time, you're in silence, and you're meditating. You're concentrating on your breathing or doing other sort of meditative practices.

HOWD: Yes, exactly.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What is the point of a retreat like this, in your view?

HOWD: I really think it's about reconnecting. You know, we live in a world that is just so overwhelmingly loud (laughter) and busy. And we get so swept away by other people's opinions, all the work that we have to do. And I really think that retreats are all about being able to kind of decondition ourselves from all of that so that we can hear the deep inner voice of who we are.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In the book, you talk about sort of the different emotions that you went through while you were going through this meditation retreat. And it often seems like you're fighting yourself or at least your idea of yourself.

HOWD: Yeah. You know, mindfulness and meditation really helped me to kind of recognize that I had this really harsh inner critic, this kind of judgmental side of myself that I actually, before meditating, really just thought was me. And then I started meditating and started recognizing that perhaps I could spend more time recognizing that thought than actually being lost and caught in it. And so I will often get caught up in those thoughts. But what happens now is I recognize - oh. And I'm able to separate myself from them.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You warn at the end of the book that this retreat isn't for everyone because it's so emotionally tough. I mean, this was tough for you.

HOWD: Yeah. It's a bit of a rollercoaster, and it isn't for everybody. It's best to always kind of seek help from a professional in asking them before going on retreat to make sure that this is something that is right for you if you have any questions about it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Why did you write the book?

HOWD: Some friends of mine wanted to know what it was like. And so I just started writing an email to some folks. And 35 pages into it, I was like oh (laughter), wait a minute. I think this is something...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Maybe this is more than an email (laughter).

HOWD: Yeah, I think this is something bigger.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you think everyone can benefit from this?

HOWD: Yeah, I do think that everyone can benefit from it. You don't have to necessarily go away for days on end. But just sitting still and being quiet and being with yourself and just allowing yourself to be and not do is so beneficial on so many levels. It's kind of a radical idea to do (laughter) these days, you know, because we're so busy.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Jennifer Howd - her book is "Sit, Walk, Don't Talk: How I Survived A Silent Meditation Retreat." Thank you so much.

HOWD: Thank you.

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