Some say the sound of silence can be deafening. Why? Because when there is sound, it’s easy to find distractions. Still others find their time in silence enlightening and enjoy a sense of wellness that lasts far longer than the time spent without a spoken word.

SCPMG dermatologist Marina Ball, MD, (Orange County) shares how silent retreats have improved her wellness. Over the past four years, she’s gone to a silent retreat yearly. She took a few minutes to answer these questions by email.

Exactly what do you do when you are on a silent retreat? I arrange to spend two to five days at a retreat center, with an emphasis on spirituality. I plan a loose agenda of what I would like to do ahead of time, such as read, journal, pray, exercise, and appreciate nature. Sometimes I make use of a spiritual director with whom I speak for 30 to 60 minutes discussing my experiences. He/she will suggest my activities for the next day accordingly.

Where have you attended silent retreats? I have done them at various Catholic retreat centers: Mercy Center in Burlingame (near San Francisco), Prince of Peace Abbey in Oceanside, and Mt. Angel Abbey in Oregon. All are situated in natural beauty, either gardens or nearby wildlife preserves.

What benefit do you receive? I become rested and refreshed physically, mentally, and spiritually. It carries me through my busy schedule for about six months.

What types of people have you met doing this activity? My spiritual directors have all been interesting people. They are usually older individuals who are farther along the road of spiritual development than I, are willing to share some of their experiences, and have the gift of discernment to know how to direct retreatants to spiritual exercises which are most helpful at their stage of the journey.

Editor’s Notes:  In an email, Dr. Ball said she is willing to answer any questions about silent retreats and can be reached via her Kaiser Permanente email address, and she said that Ignatian Spirituality is the basis for most Christian silent retreats.  Dr. Ball also volunteers for medical missions – most recently she cared for patients during a two-week trip to Myanmar (Burma) with Global Health Outreach.

There are many paths for meditation and silent retreats; many are non-denominational. Below are a few resources for those who wish to know more.

Academic Journals

A number of articles have been written in academic journals. Here are the titles of several we found when using One Search through kpLibraries (note you must be on Kaiser Permanente’s network to access):

  • Evoking Equanimity: Silent Interaction Rituals in Vipassana Meditation Retreats. Pagis, Michal. Qualitative Sociology. Mar2015, Vol. 38 Issue 1, p39-56. 18p. DOI: 10.1007/s11133-014-9295-7.
  • Reflections on a Silent Meditation Retreat: A Beginner’s Perspective. Johnson, Chad V. International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 2009, Vol. 28 Issue 1, p134-138, 5p. Publisher: Floraglades Foundation, Inc.
  • Health Benefits of Emptying the Mind: Rediscovering Meditation. Donnelly GF, Holistic Nursing Practice [Holist Nurs Pract], ISSN: 1550-5138, 2013 Mar-Apr; Vol. 27 (2), pp. 57-8; Publisher: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; PMID: 23399704, Database: MEDLINE
  • The Benefits of Meditation vis-à-vis Emotional Intelligence, Perceived Stress and Negative Mental Health. Chu L; Stress & Health: Journal of the International Society for the Investigation of Stress, Apr2010; 26(2): 169-180. 12p. (Journal Article – research, tables/charts) ISSN: 1532-3005, Database: CINAHL with Full Text


The following organizations feature a variety of workshops and retreats:


How do you practice wellness? We are looking for physicians willing to share a story about his or her own wellness journey, please contact Denise Vastola via her Kaiser Permanente email address.