Attending a silent retreat in rural Bali was the perfect way to spend my final days in Indonesia and to reflect on the last three months spent on the island. I came to the retreat looking for silence and rest, and went away with an entirely new understanding of food, community, and alternative ways of living.
Bali Silent Retreat offers a serene garden-filled community full of bountiful delicious organic food, early morning yoga and meditation, and of course, silence. Essentially, it’s an introvert’s paradise (where I found myself re-reading parts of Quiet, a book that notes how introverts best recharge their batteries with alone time).
My driver took me off the main roads and we ascended up a hill until we found the retreat in the middle of a quiet rice field, with a view of a mountain in the distance. As the car’s engine turned off, I could only hear the sounds of nature around me. The welcoming staff gave me a tour of the beautiful grounds and led me to my open-concept room. I’ve touched on my love for Balinese open architecture before, but this was a whole new experience since my room only had three walls. The open fourth wall looked out to the forest below, and as I woke each morning I was greeted by a vibrant orange sky and the sight of birds and bats in the distance. Under the cover of a mosquito net at night, this was the perfect view to retreat to.
The idea is to spend your time however you choose- but entirely in silence. Everyone comes for different reasons, and everyone leaves with different reflections. But being in silence has many perks. For one, it allowed me to completely be on my own schedule, only having to answer to myself. I could be reading a book in the library, or writing in the common area, and never had to worry about someone coming to ask a question or inform me of something. My entire day was open and free to be spent as I chose. It may sound a little self-interested, but this retreat is entirely about treating yourself well.
Being in silence also let me process my thoughts more fluidly and allowed me to focus on 'single-tasking' (hint: it turns out multi-tasking is not a good thing). When eating, you’re encouraged to just eat and focus on the food (rather than eating and talking, or eating and reading, and barely noticing what your ingesting). When walking, focus on the steps you take. When sitting, just sit and soak in the view and quiet all the wild thoughts that come streaming through.
Not to mention I used this as a time to disconnect from technology. The site runs on solar energy, but this wasn’t my reason for wanting to disconnect. There have been numerous studies on the negative effects that technology has on concentration. I could search for the articles, but I’m sure you can think to a friend who always pulls out their phone mid-conversation or a generation of kids who are forgetting how to sustain lengthy conversation. To lock my computer and phone away for four days was difficult at first (I found myself instinctively reaching for my phone at odd times without realizing why I was doing it) but in the end I felt so much better to have had the time away from it. Boredom didn’t become a problem. There were always options for things to do- sitting, walking, looking, thinking -- rudimentary human skills that we don’t give thought to due to the distraction of technology.
The site operates like a high-end ashram, so that means you don’t interact with staff at all (unless you need something). You keep your own room tidy, make your own bed, and clean up your dishes when you’re done with them. This system requires minimal effort from each individual, and lets the retreat operate as it does as the guests participate mindfully for the duration of their stay.
I came expecting to be rewarded only by silence, and left with a completely new appreciation for food and conscious eating. My mind has been completely expanded in this regard, and I will continue to view food in a new way from now on. The food was without a doubt some of the best I’ve tasted in my life. And here’s the surprise- it was almost entirely vegan.
Walking into the kitchen at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I’d be greeted by a whole new spread of foods (buffet-style) to graze on. The food was abundant, and there was always more to be had. Needless to say, I ate a lot while I was there. I found myself getting full and wished so badly that the feeling would go away so that I could appreciate the tastes and flavours again and again.
Poached rice field duck eggs with a lemongrass version of hollandaise, coconut fritters, garden greens, fresh sour dough bread with a spread of jams (dragon fruit, papaya, melon, or just natural peanut butter). A rainbow array of fresh fruits, crunchy granola and cashew milk, baked pineapples with cinnamon, sticky bread pudding, and so much more. To drink was the option of herbal teas (chop up your own turmeric, dill, basil, ginger, or lemongrass), green smoothies, cashew milk, watermelon juice, kaffir or ginger lemonade, or a tamarind and turmeric juice. And that’s just one morning’s breakfast. One particular dessert, a banana and raw chocolate pudding was one of the best desserts of all time. Each day and meal was entirely fresh and new.
The majority of the food was grown on site, with some exceptions coming from around the island. No refined white sugar was ever used, (rather palm sugar was collected locally). You can imagine my surprise and shock after eating such new foods. This completely challenged my belief system that meat and dairy is always better than not. When you have a chef this talented cooking such a wide array of meals, you learn to believe what you taste. I suppose you can spend a lifetime listening to vegetarians and vegans talk about how great the food is, but if you don’t actually immerse yourself in the best of it then they’re just words after all. But this chef delivered. He provided the absolute tastiest foods all day long, and explained where everything came from. My taste buds don’t lie.
Being in silence encouraged me to have gratitude for the people who grew the foods, collected them, prepared them, and shared them. I’ve never given thought to where my food really came from before. But in this place, I only had to look out at the view while eating to see the farmers collecting the foods for the next meal.
Throw in a routine of morning guided meditations and yoga classes, and a second round of each again every afternoon, and you have a well-rounded, beautiful, calming retreat. I'd highly recommend this place to anyone visiting Bali.
I know that my future for the next while will involve backpacking and often eating the cheapest foods I can get, but I won’t forget the lessons learned in this place. Bangkok certainly isn’t a city that reminds people of organics, slow food, and farm-to-table eats, but I can always find myself choosing places that offer more transparency, and remembering to pay attention to where my food comes from.
For now my travels will take a turn as I explore Thailand, a much more lively and hectic country. I look forward to the new challenges, but feel completely refreshed and inspired knowing that such serene places are always available to retreat to when things get too chaotic.
What place makes you feel completely restored?