This 10-day silent retreat saved my life
I was thinking about suicide. Instead, I decided to shut up.
Welcome to This Trip Changed My Life, where we spotlight the ways (good, bad, and everything in between) that travel has impacted the people we’re most inspired by.
All the travel I had done—Paris, Zurich Amsterdam, Berlin—was never healing travel. I was working at Bullett, a fashion magazine, and for me travel had always been where I could show off to people that I lived a fabulous life—think spending 60 euros on a shot of tequila!
The first life-changing experience I had was the first time I went to India in the spring of 2014. Being bought out of the magazine I co-founded was such a heartache. I had the knee-jerk reaction to show people that I was still “somebody,” so I started another business called OracleTalk that was also taken away from me (the tech giant Oracle wanted the name). I was chronically anxious and depressed and not really finding solutions. I thought: I have some money, I have the time, why am I waiting around? I’m an extremist so if I’m going to study healing and meditation, I’m going to fucking India to study Buddhism.
I was chronically anxious and mildly depressed and not really finding solutions. I thought: I have some money, I have the time, why am I waiting around?
Before my trip I went to the East Village and spent $50 on clothing that was 50 cents in India. I bought loose hemp pants for $200 and arrived in India and saw them for $2 and thought, I’m such an asshole! When I arrived at New Delhi I had my Tom Ford cologne on and had so many mosquitoes landing on my arms. I was traveling as a New Yorker; I was still doing me.
From New Dheli I took a 45-minute plane over the Himalayas and an hour-long car ride up the mountain to Dharamsala, where I did a 10-day silent retreat at Tushita Center. I had never gone silent for 10 days; I love to talk, I love to connect, I love to share, I love to comment, I love to just express, so to be in full silence, it was like, whoa! When I got there I went to the chai shop next door and bought two Kit Kats and put them in a little paper bag—I was thinking, if this shit goes south you’ve got a little bit of sugar and chocolate.
I love to talk, I love to connect, I love to share, I love to comment, so to be in full silence, it was like, whoa!
I left the chocolate on a table in my room, literally inches from me, and suddenly a monkey appeared on the table, opened up the bag, and took a bite from the chocolate with the wrapper on. And then another, and another. My roommate said, “We should leave now, right?” I was like, “Yes!” But these monkeys start coming after me because they think I have more…. That’s how I started the retreat: Fuck, I’m in India, and this is real.
That first trip was really insane because I got to learn about unconditional love. The way my teacher talked about it was, “We’re all suffering—but guess what? There’s a way out, and there’s a way for us to be connected to our hearts through this path.”
In the fall I went back to do a 30-day silent retreat in Nepal at Kopan Monastery—and that was when everything fell apart. You’re in the thick of it, surrounded by all of the most sacred mountain ranges in the world. Nepal is the birthplace of Buddha, so it has this intensified energy to it.
What was insane was I bought a bag of hash, a bottle of whiskey, and a pack of cigarettes that I stashed in my bag the night before the retreat. On my way up to the monastery I was in this little car for 20 minutes on a one-way road up a mountain—if another car comes it’s like a scene out of a scary movie, with an abyss to the right. On my way there I decided, fuck it, I’m going to commit to this experience, and I threw it all out the window. So those 30 days were about learning forgiveness and self-forgiveness.
I really got to see how I talked to myself for so many years; I got to see how vicious my inner critic has been, and how much of that self-criticism I’ve allowed to take place. For the first time I had become so silent inside and had space to be able to witness the chatter playing out in my head. It was insane, this narrative of fear, of guilt, of remorse that was permeating everything.
The retreat was just so intense: We’d have the purification practice at night, and the long teachings, a sharing circle, and five hours of meditation during the day. Throughout my 30-day process, I broke down so many times. The breakdowns looked like many things: a fever in the middle of the day because of the psychosomatic response I was having. Or going to the cafe inside the monastery and eating a bag of Oreos and drinking Coca-Cola at 11 p.m. Or sneaking out of the monastery to smoke cigarettes—I’d have to knock on the door and be like, “Please let me back in!”
I paid a monk to let me use his phone because I was convinced I had lost my shit; I went from neurotic to psychotic. I thought my whole family died—I was like, I know they’re gone! I called my mom and she was like, “No, we’re good?”
Eventually my state of awareness was so heightened, so clear, that I realized that we’re not our feelings, we’re not our thoughts, we don’t need to be dictated by them. I wondered, why had no one told any us this?
Of course, I would still put on a look every day. I would wear fake leather black shorts with Patagonia leg warmers underneath, and then hiking boots with wool socks. I’d wear my sunglasses all the time, in and out of the compound. I’d sleep with my hair in braids so my hair would look good every day. I would wake up at 4:30 a.m. so I could jump rope before the 5:30 a.m. class. I wanted to feel sexy…and then I’d be called out in front of 250 people for being that person jumping rope at 4:30 in the morning! I remember coming back to New York after Kopan and selling my last pair of Givenchy pants; I had spent $850 on them at Barneys and I was like, okay, this is it.
For the first time I had become so silent inside and had space to be able to witness the chatter playing out in my head.
I would absolutely not be where I am today if I hadn’t gone on those first trips; it was the catalyst, the conduit for my transformation. It was the moment that I needed. If I didn’t go on that trip to India, I wouldn’t be around; I would have listened to the suicidal thoughts and been like, bye girl.
People tell me all the time, “Oh my God, Sah, you spent nearly four years traveling? I want to do that when I’m 60!” Honey, you better hope you’re around for that shit! It is fucking hard, but why not explore a different culture, explore a different country, explore your mind, explore your heart? Live a curious life.
—As told to The Glassy
If you or someone you love is struggling with suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
Sah D’Simone is a New York-based transformational coach and meditation teacher. Since his life-changing year of travel, D’Simone has gone on to lead retreats of his own—including one June 22-24 at Maha Rose North.