Five Business Lessons from Three Days of Silence

“A gathering is an opportunity to create a world.” – Priya

In May, I put myself on the waitlist for a three day silent retreat. At spot #12, I thought ‘surely I won’t get into this highly in-demand countercultural experience.’ 

 And then, only a week in advance, I got my invitation. I was in for 72 hours of silence, including five hours of seated meditation practice per day - not to mention indoor and outdoor meditation walking practice, Oryoki eating mindfulness practice, work mindfulness practice, interviews with teachers, and formal procedures for how to do just about everything in between.

When I arrived, I quickly learned the values of this new culture: clarity, generosity, and interdependence. An assistant of the retreat manager, Sue, led me through training on detailed expectations for the formalized practices. Here I gleaned my first lesson from this retreat.  

 

1. Begin how you intend to proceed

The first (and last) 5% of any experience is the most important. Whether onboarding a new team member or kicking off a team development offsite, take extra care to demonstrate your values in those first few moments. In this world, I learned the retreat values in the first 20 minutes thanks to clearly defined expectations for how I should behave in order to succeed in this community. 

 2. Acknowledge threshold moments

There is power in pausing when entering and exiting a space. In this world, we bowed to ourselves and each other when entering or exiting the space. In team development workshops, I teach the DoorFrame practice: touch the door frame every time you go in or out of a space to remind yourself to check in: stop, take a breath, observe, and then proceed. With this momentary somatic grounding, you get a brief dose of checking in with yourself to become aware of your energy, emotional state, and your intentions so you can make the best decisions moving forward. 

 When moving between projects, work spaces, and especially between home and work, in order to develop presence, take a momentary pause and deep breath. In addition, when you come to a break between projects with your team, take a similar momentary pause to reflect on recent successes and failures, give feedback on processes, and make a plan for how to better proceed together. 

 

3. Get personal with your coach

On this 3 day silent retreat, the only time we weren’t silent was when we sat with our mindfulness experience leaders one-on-one for 20 minutes each day. The first day, I shared generic information. The second day, I got specific and shared questions I had and exactly where I was struggling on this retreat and in life. You can bet that the second day I left the interview feeling a much greater sense of relief and support because I got personal. 

By demonstrating the courage to be vulnerable and share honestly with your mentors and your team, your value for authenticity shines through and allows others to do the same. Share personal stories with your leadership coach, mentors, teammates, and direct reports to build trust, an intangible asset that fuels your bottom line.

 

4. Shared adversity builds a dependable community

In this world, I enjoyed my experience at first. I spent the first hours delighted to explore my internal landscape, letting my mind travel in the valleys and peaks of my psyche with relative ease. And then, there came a moment when all I wanted to do was leave. I watched as my mind came up with every excuse to go now, even planning an escape plan full of excuses to tell my retreat leaders.

In that moment of extreme aversion to the current experience, what kept me there was my roommate and great new friend, Oske. I knew that by staying at the retreat during this extreme moment of challenge, I would be supporting my own growth and development but also my teammate’s. 

Sure enough, on our very last meditation, we both took the option to lie down. I felt a wave of relief next to my new friend with whom our friendship developed completely non-verbally but so strongly given our 96 hours of intense practice and reconditioning of our awareness. 

When I shared with her my strong desire to leave during our very first conversation on a phone call after the retreat, she said how much value I brought to her practice by staying. 

We debriefed thoroughly,  sharing where we struggle currently in our practice. She even helped solve my problem of finding a way to build in formal practice at work. We scheduled a monthly peer mentoring call so we can continue to help solve each others’ problems and add value to each others’ practices moving forward. 

 

5. End well

Most meetings, gatherings, and events come to an abrupt halt rather than end intentionally well. I made the mistake of leaving this retreat early due to a prior commitment. I missed the opportunity for the full transfer of training - the key integration that happens when skillful facilitators build intentional moments to synthesize and integrate an experience with time to reflect, share, and a plan for action moving forward.

 From a 5 min warning to let your teammates know you need to leave a meeting exactly on time today, to a handwritten thank-you note to your former direct reports when you move on to a new role, be explicit and wise with how you choose to end.

 

For me, this silent retreat was an example of the immense benefits of a Crux Experience: a defining 4 day, 3 night expedition that transforms the way we live and do business. 

My new partner Knight and I just launched Crux Society, a professional and personal development platform for emerging leaders. Crux Society members receive leadership coaching, peer mentoring, and access to Crux Experiences – overnight outdoor adventures built to establish and maintain dependable community with high level leaders in different industries. At every Crux Experience, you will build invaluable leadership and outdoor skills with a growth mindset community while gain the countless benefits of spending time away from work (where great insights come!) all in the great outdoors.

 

Want to join us for our next Crux Experience to see for yourself? Watch this short video, read testimonials from our clients, and fill out an application here.