Let's breathe about it.

Silent Retreat Lessons: How to Fully Appreciate Mealtime

I’ll never forget Christmas morning of 2017, the first full day of my twelve-days-long silent retreat.

I felt resentful and terribly cold standing outside in a line with about 80 other female retreat participants in rural Occidental, California. As I watched my breath turn into vapor at 6:15 AM on that dark, damp Christmas morning, I got even colder. That’s when a bone-chilling untruth started spooking me; I began worrying that the dining hall doors would not, as promised, open at 6:30 AM.


I felt so relieved when the doors did finally open at 6:36 AM, but after breakfast, I got sick to my stomach as I sensed I’d never make it through the next 11 days. I dearly missed my morning ritual: a walk from my warm bedroom to our cozy kitchen to enjoy a truly, hot cup of Choice-brand, bancha green tea with almond milk and a glorious view of the San Francisco Bay all by myself. In stark contrast, the hot water at the retreat center was too cold for me. And they only offered generic green tea and soy or dairy milk. They also didn’t offer any of my favorite breakfast staples. On top of that, the whole experience of waiting in line and competing with other retreat participants for breakfast totally irritated me.


Almost three months later, I’m delighted to report, despite my emotional distress, eating in a silent retreat community transformed me. Now months later, I see how my retreat experience helped me evolve from being well informed about good eating habits to actually practicing more healthy eating habits. I, just like most Americans, know more now than ever before about nutrition. And yet, our society is now more obese and malnourished than ever before. 


Before attending the retreat, I already knew that eating meals with other people makes us healthier, and yet, I ate most of my meals solo. Although I hated it at first, I learned to love eating in a community. Despite not talking to anyone, I began cherishing the companionship of my fellow retreat participants. Since the retreat, I’ve gone out of my way to dine with other people. My husband, Bob and I now eat more dinners together. Every Wednesday night, we share a special, home-cooked meal at our dining room table instead of the kitchen counter. We also invite our loved ones to our home for dinner. And, I rearranged my work schedule so I can eat lunch with fellow co-workers on Monday and Wednesdays. 


The pain I suffered at my retreat was well worth it. I graduated from knowing about good nutrition to acting enlightened by improving my eating habits. I practiced nourishing lifestyle medicine by upgrading my eating habits. That’s been one of many pleasant surprises from attending a silent retreat. I look forward to sharing more unexpected Christmas gifts from my retreat in the near future.


The most important thing you can do with your kids? Eat dinner with them.

The Family Dinner Project References