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Success Through Silence: Why Silent Mindfulness Retreats Create Stronger, More Present Business Leaders

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Rob Dube is an EO member in Detroit, speaker, author and proponent of mindful leadership. He is president and co-founder of imageOne, a managed print services provider, and a 2017 Forbes Small Giant. Rob is passionate about delivering extraordinary experiences for his team members, customers and community. We asked him about his experience with silent retreats. Here’s what he shared.

silent retreat

With meditation becoming more mainstream, many leaders are starting regular meditation practices. As a former skeptic-turned-proponent of this simple yet effective life tool, I speak from personal experience. It took me far too long to discover mindfulness, and I was at the brink of burn-out as I worked to grow my company, imageOne.

Then one day—after reading about the benefits of meditation—I finally sat down and tried it. For the first time in years, I let my mind truly relax. That moment transformed my life, and soon I learned I was far from the only business leader committed to meditation.

Just look at the growing list of high-level CEOs spreading the merits of mindfulness and meditation. From Salesforce’s Mark Benioff installing meditation rooms at his company’s headquarters to Bill Gates professing his love of practicing mindfulness and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey going on a 10-day silent retreat, personal introspection is making its mark in mainstream business.

Thanks to this burgeoning interest, more leaders are seeking to jumpstart their meditation practices. Could a silent meditation retreat provide the perfect venue? If so, how could taking valuable time off work to spend in silence lead to better leadership?

I wondered the same things. That’s why, many years ago, I attended a silent retreat. I learned that a long weekend of quiet reflection can change lives—and businesses—for the better. 

What Is A Silent Retreat? 

You’ve probably felt mentally exhausted at some point—being perpetually busy and never providing your mind with time to rest and rejuvenate is one consequence of today’s overly connected world. Just as our bodies require rest after exercise, our brains need a break from the constant bombardment of stimuli. That’s what a silent retreat provides.

There are many fantastic programs around the world. I’d love to answer any questions so you can discover the perfect retreat for you and your schedule.

Each year, I host the donothing Leadership Retreat, a four-day silent meditation retreat specifically for leaders. You can read details of what we do each day during the retreat here. Here’s an overview:

Day one: Participants get acquainted with each other, the retreat site and your leader. We review meditation basics and power-off electronics.

Day two: After a morning meditation, the silence begins in the afternoon. You’re discouraged from verbal communication, writing, reading or even making eye contact. Participants stay active with sitting meditation, walks through nature and retreat leaders sharing the power of mindfulness.

Day three: As you grow more comfortable in silence, daily worries begin floating away, and you begin to understand what’s genuinely important: your presence, right now, in this very moment.

Day four: By late morning, the silence gradually ends. The group discusses their experience and shares strategies for incorporating newly discovered mindfulness into daily life. As the retreat ends, you may find that you’re reluctant to power-on electronics and reconnect until absolutely necessary.

Common Questions About Silent Retreats

As a business leader, I know it takes more than a few paragraphs to explain to leaders all of the benefits of retreat. Here, I’ll answer a few common questions about silent meditation retreats.

Do I Really Have to Stay Off the Internet? We’re all adults and retreats aren’t prisons. If turning off your phone or checking email is an absolute deal-breaker, no one will stop you from stepping away to catch up. But keep in mind, disconnecting is a rare opportunity overconnected leaders should embrace.

Many past silent retreat participants say unplugging ended up as one of their favorite aspects of the retreat, including Paul Spiegelman, entrepreneur, restaurateur, author, speaker and founder of the Small Giants Community. As a busy business leader, Paul was anxious about disconnecting for a few days, but what he learned was eye-opening.

“We’re not all that important,” Paul says. “Four days later, the world is still there. The world hasn’t fallen apart. So much of that distraction is just noise that we don’t need.”

Imagine the clarity following a silent retreat. Everything’s still running just as it did a few days ago—but your mind now feels more aware, focused and present about the things that really matter.

Won’t I Get Bored? Maybe. We’ve become wired to stay away from boredom. In our incessantly busy society, we’re taught that “doing nothing” is akin to laziness. Therefore, we fill spare time by staring at our phone, checking social media, obsessing over emails and over-planning events.

As humans, we mentally can only handle so much. What if we permitted our brains to hit pause? Not just for a lazy afternoon (where we’d likely still be filling our brains with Netflix or scrolling through Facebook), but for a few days of pure mental cleansing.

Silent retreats allow us to give our minds—the same minds that made us the leaders we are today—a real break. No distractions. No figuring things out. No responsibilities. Just learning to live with ourselves without all the filler. For a few days, let’s go back to the basics.

How Does Meditation Help Me As a Leader? Just a short period of quiet introspection will provide you with irreplaceable tools designed to ease stress, improve decision-making, respond better to any situation and connect deeper within yourself

This idea is perhaps summed up best in one of my favorite quotes attributed to Holocaust survivor, neurologist and author Viktor Frankl:

“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Each day as leaders, we’re trusted to react to countless situations big and small. From writing important emails to answering complicated questions to hiring new team members, every action can potentially reverberate for years.

Don’t we owe it to our teams and our loved ones to show up at our best?

Don’t we owe ourselves the same?

Do you want to learn more about silent meditation retreats? Have questions I didn’t answer? I’d love to connect with you directly on Twitter and LinkedIn. You can also read my book donothing or listen to my recent donothing podcast where I discuss silent meditation retreats more in-depth.

Categories: Best Practices Health Inspirational Leadership

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