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  • Writer's picturePrisci Ribas

The freedom to say no

I often have the need of pleasing others. It's tough to say no or feel like I'm being unpolite.

I tend to say yes or do things I don't really want to do just so people don't get offended (and most of the time, they wouldn't anyway. But it's just how my mind works).

So when my sister in law has given me this "one silence retreat day" as a birthday gift, I thought it would be a good opportunity to not only relax but also to allow myself to do whatever I feel like. Sleeping, reading, writing or even daring to do nothing.

As the "me" day was arriving, my concerns started to pop into my head. "What if a client needs something urgent?", "What if my mum needs me and I won't be available?" as well as the silliest ones like "what if I'm hungry and it's not lunchtime yet?".

With all these thoughts I also thought I'd be missing checking my social media every couple of minutes.

So the big special day comes. I didn't wake up as early as I'd planned to calmly prepare myself. I quickly wear some warm clothes as it's gonna be a beautiful-but-cold day, make sure I have an extra pair of socks, and chuck some books in my backpack with my camera (don't want to use my phone at all but might want to register the day) along with a notepad - which is where I'm writing at the moment.

While I'm driving to the retreat place, I promise myself: "Today is going to be all about me". I won't be shy, I'll talk to others when I'm allowed to (because yes, I also have this problem of just not talking in groups where I don't know anyone).

When I knock on the door, a lovely lady greets me with Pema, a wee dog. There will be five of us today - me, her, two more participants and of course, Pema. The house is beautiful - there are two large rooms, one of them surrounded by couches and a fireplace, the other with a big couch and lots of books that we could pick to read during the day and a very nice kitchen area. Stunning views of the mountain, and there is a tree with a swing on the lawn that I'd only notice by the end of the day when it was too cold to go outside. Upstairs there was a space for yoga and meditation.

She offers me a cuppa tea, and although I'm not a tea person, I am very much the kind of person who needs to be holding a cup to feel more confident (it may seem there's no relation, but it works! Having a cup in your hands can actually help you to feel less nervous and you can always take a sip when you kinda need a moment to think). So I say yes, and to my surprise, it was a delicious tea. The four of us have a small chat about the weather, and where we are from - this question also always makes me anxious because I never know if the person is asking me where I'm coming from like "where's the town where I'm currently living" or if the question goes deeper like "where's my accent coming from" (it happened before of me starting telling where I'm originally from and it was very awkward to realise that the person just wanted to know how long I took just to get to where we were…). By coincidence, our hoster made the same exact comment that was in my head about the doubts about what this question means, so we had a laugh and she moves on to explain how the day was going to go: silence starts at 10 am, with a guided meditation session, in which we didn't have to participate if we didn't want to. Morning tea at 11:30, lunch would be on the table by 1 pm and we could have it or not - my sister-in-law had given me a heads up that we are truly free to do whatever we want, so for instance, if I were sleeping, they wouldn't wake me up to have the meals because they'd assume that I don't want to be bothered. Another guided meditation session at 3 pm, silence finishes at 4:30 pm and then we have a mindful conversation while drinking a chai until 5 pm.

My head takes a while to slow down (I shouldn't have had that espresso before leaving home), so I know guided meditation won't be a good idea to start the day. The Priscila I left outside the door when I arrived would join them just to not feel rude (even though the host made it pretty clear that it wasn't mandatory) but I had to remember that it was the new Priscila in that house, the one who's true to herself. So as everyone goes upstairs for the meditation, I pick the best sofa to lay on, with a beautiful view of the mountain, pull a blanket over me and start looking at… nothing. I didn't want to read, I wasn't feeling like sleeping, so I just spent the first half an hour admiring the mountains and thinking about nothing. I know it took this time because, by the time the meditation had finished, I grabbed my book. I've been having a hard time trying to finish reading a book just for fun because I have so many things going on, so when I have time to read, I end up reading something related to my studies. As I start reading, the sleep comes. And that's how my morning went - reading, sleeping, waking up, reading, falling asleep… Pema was sleeping on my legs and so both of us spent the whole morning laying on that couch, which, to be honest, was the best one over there - and leaving that spot later was the only thing I didn't do for myself that day. I figured other people might also want to spend some time there and to be honest, I started feeling hungry and wondered what time the morning tea would be available. To my surprise, I saw another participant serving herself lunch! That means from 10 in the morning to 1 pm I managed to not think about life outside that house. I was just doing what I felt like doing.

The lunch was a-m-a-z-i-n-g! A plant-based soup with homemade bread. I decide to eat at the table (we could eat wherever we wanted) beside the other woman, and it was so good being able to have my lunch not listening to a podcast as I'm used to, or chit-chatting. It was just me, my meal and those views (note to self: need to do it more often).

It was then time to free that couch to someone else. I take my book out of there meaning "this space is free", and I go outside to explore - and that's when I took the photos you are seeing here. The exit of one of the rooms (which I figured we weren't allowed to enter), had a little pond in front which I mentally added to the project of my dream house. As I saw the rest of the participants inside the house my first thought was that they were looking at me and judging me for being outside on such a cold day - because yes, I also have a tendency to think that people are noticing (and judging) everything I'm doing. Rationally I know that in 99.9% of the cases they don't really care, so I brought my rational side up, and kept on taking some photos.

After long hours of doing and thinking about nothing, I decided I wanted to join the second round of guided meditation, so I sat in front of the fireplace and started writing this text while I waited for it. Because I had no watch on, I only realised that it was time when I could hear the host starting the session, so I ran to get my spot. Mediation is still a challenge for me. My legs were tingly and although I had two socks and a blanket on, my feet were cold. So the whole time I was half feeling cold and numb legs and half falling asleep with the sweet voice of the host.

By coincidence (or not), after the meditation ended and I returned to the place I was, right in front of the fireplace, and I fell into a deep sleep. So deep that the host had to wake me up to let me know it was time for the chat with the chai. I was feeling so grateful for allowing myself to spend a day doing exactly what I wanted to, that it gave me some sort of confidence to decide that I just didn't want to have a chat right after waking up. So I, of course, sat at the table with everyone else, had my chai but didn't say a word. And I didn't worry about what they were thinking of me being wordless the whole time. I listened to nice stories, especially of how the host started to dream about the place we were, and other experiences, but honestly, I had nothing to share and I was not worried about it.

We said our goodbyes, I grabbed my backpack, and only when I got back into my car, the reality hit and I turned my phone on. I made it! I spent a whole day away from my phone and I didn't miss it even for a second. And I wrote when I wanted to. I slept when I wanted to. I had a walk when I wanted to. And said yes and said no when I wanted to.

It's been now a week since that day. And I can guarantee that I am definitely a different person, trying to own myself and understand that saying no to other people can mean saying yes to myself.

Oh… and I will definitely be back there whenever I can.

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