A few days before I was to take my vow of silence, my long-suffering husband suggested that maybe I should start practicing that night. I laughed but admitted he might be right. I’m a talker, so I was feeling a little nervous. I was checking into the Self Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine retreat in Pacific Palisades on Friday afternoon for two days of silence, contemplation and meditation. Before handing over your room key, they give you a pin to wear that says: “I’m Silent.” This is to alert staff and day visitors to the gardens or temple not to strike up a conversation. I was taking a 48-hour vacation from my own voice — and my cellphone and social media. The tab: $170 for two nights and six meals.
Twenty rooms are open to retreatants at any given time; you are assigned your own room. Mine, which had a twin bed, had a view of the ocean in the distance. It was spotless. There is no TV, but a desk with reading material about Paramahansa Yogananda. The yogi who founded Lake Shrine had arrived here from India in 1920 and took “America by storm,” as one framed headline read in the gift shop. The only bummer was the whoosh of traffic on Sunset Boulevard.
A gong sounds to let you know when breakfast, lunch and dinner are served in the dining room. Meals are around a wooden table in front of a picture window with a distant ocean view. We smiled at one another and took any chair. All meals are vegetarian and delicious: pepper frittata, butternut squash ravioli and carafes of hot herbal tea. The only sound is classical music — and chewing. It’s odd spending an entire weekend with four strangers, sharing every meal and never knowing their names.
The gardens are open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily except Mondays, but if you’re on retreat you can head to the lake any time from dawn until dusk to be alone with the swans. It is a lovely sanctuary filled with flowers. A statue of Jesus stands on top of a waterfall. A stone sarcophagus contains some of Mahatma Gandhi’s ashes. A statue of Buddha sits on a hillside, and Krishna plays his flute in a grotto.
THE LESSON LEARNED
I felt as if I were cheating on my vow of silence because I could still hear my voice blabbering in my head. But the weekend was rejuvenating. I felt my nervous energy slip away, beginning with the Friday night guided meditation in the temple. You are allowed to keep your phone, by the way, and even turn it on to take photos, so you could text. But what would be the point? The idea is to connect with your higher spirit, which you won’t find on the internet.
Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine, 17190 Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades; (310) 459-4740. Maximum five-night stay, Tuesdays through Saturdays. $85 per night suggested donation.