A playlist for a silent retreat

Terri W
Terri W
Jul 8, 2016 · 7 min read

A few days ago I completed my first Vipassana 10 day course. This involved 10 days of silent meditation with no contact with the outside world and extremely limited contact with the other humans around me.

Insane right?

When was the last time I was silent for 10 days? Maybe when I was in the womb? I had no idea how my brain would respond to no input other than 11 hours of meditating daily: I was scared. There were plenty of enlightening moments but three observations that stand out are:

1. I know the script, lyrics and backstories of pretty much every Disney film produced between 1989 and 2000.

2. I effing LOVE Snape. I mean, what a character. Big love to Rowling for bringing him to literature.

3. I ALWAYS have a song in my head.

Point 3 is a total blessing and it made me realise just how important music is to me. It’s a constant companion and something I am putting at the forefront of my daily life again.

I was terrified going in and a different person coming out, but I’ll write about that later. First I wanted to share the playlist 10 days of silent put together in my head and a few reasons why these songs accompanied me on a journey to meet my inner voice. I hope on some level, they resonate with you too.

Ben Howard — Keep Your Head Up

Key Lyrics: Pretty much the whole song, but let’s go with “All I was searching for was me”.

When I got home and put my headphones on and this played, I cried so hard my Mum thought I’d lost a limb (or maybe just my mind). It was a pure explosion of relief, joy and hope from my very heart. I lost myself pretty bad over the past 18 months and I will lose myself again but right now, I see myself in the mirror again and I am so grateful for that alone. My future isn’t set in stone but this is the biggest blessing I could ever ask for. The greatest learning of the 10 days was that I am strong enough right now, was back then and will be forever more. Trust yourself and let the pain, confusion and sadness pass because everything changes and this will too.

Newton Faulkner — Sugar in the Snow

Key Lyric: “And all the things that held us back, that drained us like an hourglass, will disappear like sugar in the snow”

By far the artist who popped up most in my head over the 10 days, turns out Mr Faulkner is a pretty smart man and I wouldn’t be surprised if I looked over to the male side of the meditation hall and saw him all snuggled up in blankets and cushions. This song oozes calmness and acceptance over the beauty, mystery and sheer folly of existence. Just roll with it baby — you’re going to be just fine.

Nahko and Medicine for the People — Dark as Night

Key Lyric: All of it. “I believe in the good things coming… I am no master I know nothing… a lot of self work undone…take a look at myself in my third eye…Everything’s already alright all ways all right”.

Ah, where to start with Mr Bear. I was shown him by a close friend from my year abroad and was initially dismissive of just how much ‘hippy shit’ goes on in his lyrics. And then I got over myself, dissolved my ego sat down and just listened. His albums truly blossomed for me during my month in Bali as I realised I was trapped in the spiritual closet and shut myself off to anything that wasn’t proven with facts, figures and a paragraph in my GCSE text book. As a result I was as ignorant as the devout zealots I often place on the bottom rungs of human intelligence.

Slowly, I’ve accepted that I am full of hippy shit, my soul sings with all there is to learn about spirituality and I feel I’ve been woken up. Suddenly I believe in the good things coming, I look with a (kinda squinty) third eye and I am so, so aware of how good the universe is if we let it be so.

The Cat Empire — You are my Song

Key lyric: In my chest, I know a bird is rising. Find another way.

My go to answer if you ask my favourite band (balanced with Incubus), I was meditating one day and this song just appeared. I wanted to hear it, throw my head back and sing, dance, laugh and salsa all over the calm Dhamma Dipa landscape but yeah… that was definitely out.

If you have never checked out the Empire, I urge you to do so. They are a musical embodiment of old saying ‘variety is the spice of life’. I also had some rather, er, interesting visions about the trumpet player/vocalist on the day my brain was SEXFOODSEX. Let’s just say he wasn’t making me dinner…

Incubus — Trust Fall

Key Lyric: It’s only a Trust Fall, into the arms of all, love is a blessed curse that lets you sail across the known universe.

15 months ago this song became the trigger that let me know it’s time to move on. I had no idea how but I went from 9–5 city living to canoeing the Mississippi, running festivals and climbing around Indonesian volcanos. I let go of everything and set sail without an anchor, paddle or compass. In the end I actually tattooed the last item on my arm but you know what I mean.

Something about Incubus speaks to my soul on such a primal, instinctive level that makes me want to take the pages of the handbook of life and rip them up with my teeth. It’s raw, it’s energetic and somehow it always comes along when I need it most. My whole life has become a Trust Fall and I’ve never been more in line with the known universe.

Newton Faulkner — In the Morning

Key Lyric: Made you tea, just drink it angrily.

Every afternoon you had an hour tea break at the centre. This song was always in my head purely because one day after a particularly uncomfortable and emotionally abusive meditation session, I discovered how one drinks tea angrily.

Diving into your head does weird things to your feelings and I found myself either so angry I broke a sweat and twitched or so excited that my heart threatened to burst from my chest like that scene in Alien.

I coped with the anger with hot, sugary tea. And lots of it.

Newton Faulkner — Pulling Teeth

Key Lyric: It’s no sin to shed your thick skin, throw it in the bin, show me who you really are

Ah, Newt again. Love that man. This whole song sums up the madness of modern societies and most human relationships. It also reminds us that we’re over complicating and if we just keep going forward the path is already there. I learned a lot about compassion over the past 10 days and from now on I’m no longer just pushing back. Piss me off and you’re getting a hug until you’re forgiven. Or suffocating. Whatever comes first.

Nahko and Medicine for the People — Nyepi

Key Lyrics: Remove the obstacle bravely with grace. I’m powerful and I’m not afraid no more

My obsession with silence may well have been sparked back in March when I stumbled into the Balinese New Year: a night of noise and partying followed by a day of meditative silence.

The story of Nyepi (forgive me if I’ve grasped it with all the grace of a pig with a rubix cube) is basically a purging the demons/bad spirits from the island with noise and nightmares before spending the next day enjoying the purity of an island free from sin and reflecting on your own spiritual state.

EVERYTHING stops for Nyepi- even the airport is closed and although non-Balinese can speak it should be respectful whispers and a day of rest. When I experienced it this year I was unnerved by the silence and being forced to stop. I didn’t know how to deal with it then and perhaps that’s why I felt I needed to go on my journey to Dhamma Dipa.

The day after Nyepi I was very, very low. It took me several hours to get out of bed, and only 30 minutes for me to go back to it crying. In the afternoon I skulked around the upper levels of my accommodation and decided to purge myself with my journal and enough money to buy all the coffee in Ubud. I picked Nahko for a soundtrack and a song I’d come across now and then came on. I caught snippets as I wrote about my own demons and realised with a flutter in my chest that he was singing about Bali!

in my second third world on a motorbike… wild dogs tumbling along rice fields… on a day of silence while the island slept…

What was this song? I clicked open Spotify:

Now Playing: Nahko and Medicine for the People — Nyepi.

My smile broke through the clouds of my mind and the universe put a warm hand on my shoulder. It’s the little things…

Hozier — From Eden

Because this is me. And that is Hozier. I’m magic and tragic all at once and you know what? That’s just fine.

I’m still not sure why we’re not married yet though…

Any thoughts on what would make your playlist of songs for a silent retreat?

PS: You can listen to the playlist in Spotify here.

Terri W

Written by

Terri W

Storyteller rewriting life one word at a time.

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