Finding peace in slowing down

Ella Schuellerman, Arts & Life Editor


This week in E’s Editorial, I reflect on one of the most life changing experiences I’ve ever had. Though this trip was full of silence and I was all alone, I walked away with an impactful lesson and personal reminder. (Ella Schuellerman)

When I was a little girl, I had a cassette tape in my bedroom. I had it set up underneath my window, propped up next to a bin full of my excessive Webkinz collection. For some reason, I can only recall having one cassette song, “Tennessee” by Marcel Chagnon, playing constantly. No other artist. No other song. My parents had the cassette left over in some fabric case, and I would repeat this song over and over again. 

The chorus rings, “If you need me take the four lane headed my way / Take a bus, take a plane, take a car, take a train, take a bike, catch a ride / you decide.” I can’t find any new music by the artist, but his line pops into my head here and there.  

Little did I know, I would use pretty much every type of transportation Chagnon mentioned 12 years later. In the beginning of November 2019, I decided to challenge myself to do something I was always afraid to do: travel by myself to an unfamiliar country with only a backpack strung across my shoulders.

Part of the retreat center’s facilities included spa features such as a hot tub outside and various saunas to reduce stress. The outdoor water area was one of my favorite places to sit and reflect. (Ella Schuellerman)

I rumbled up the courage two weeks before my solo trip and hastily bought a plane ticket, then a train ticket, then a bus ticket. I reviewed the taxi schedule closely and reserved a car just at the right time of day.

On a daily basis I would walk around the grounds of Mandali and overlook a foggy view of the small town below peering through the mist. (Ella Schuellerman)

I booked it, packed my bags and left London at 3 a.m. I headed off to Quarna Sopra in northern Italy for my five-day solo trip, and it changed my life. I chose Quarna Sopra as my destination because it was located in beautiful mountains that blend into the alps. Perfectly tucked away, there was a meditation and yoga retreat center offering the silence and stillness I was missing after living in a bustling city for two months. 

After a bus, plane, car and train (thankfully no bike), I made it to Mandali and started to realize why I needed to go there. The concept of Mandali actually began with two entrepreneur friends, Wouter and Wildrik, who sought an escape from their constantly moving, fast-paced lives. According to Mandali’s message, the retreat center’s vision is, “We believe it is essential to take time for yourself in a sacred place.” Mandali opened in 2017 and has offered itself as a peaceful oasis for teachers, students, groups, families and lone wolves like me from all over the world. 

When I arrived at my silent retreat, I learned I was the only American of the nearly 30 people seeking tranquility and comfort through silence from the bustling world. I met a couple on a weekend getaway from their kids back in Amsterdam, a university student from Morocco, a mother/daughter duo from Spain and a few Germans. 

At the center of the grounds was the building in which all yoga and meditation took place. A cobble stone path led from the cliff of the property to the building. (Ella Schuellerman)

I meditated nearly 4 times a day, practiced yoga every few hours and spent four days in total silence surrounded by strangers seeking similar pleasure and self-care. There was no service or wifi and my time was instead full of a lot of reading, quiet meals and deep sleep.

Ironically, one of the main reasons I chose to travel to this retreat was the location. I am a sucker for views. I was banking on taking a few Instagram-worthy photos only to discover I could barely see 10 feet in front of me the entire time because a wet, dense fog surrounded the grounds.

Instead of enjoying the retreat for the beautiful landscape, spa and view, I came out with a new perspective and insight on the importance of taking care of myself. I learned how much a person can transform their life through self-care, reading, mediation, journaling, food or travel, which can all lead to self-discovery. 

If you have ever heard about the Enneagram and how it helps people define their personality types, I am a one and three on the nine-type scale. I am competent, serious-minded and dependable. I possess personal integrity and drive, am intensely aware of my surroundings and always seeming to never measure up to my own expectations and high standards. 

It is easy to be my biggest competitor, but it is harder to be my biggest supporter. Mandali taught me to let go of my predisposed expectations for myself and strip away my intensity every once in a while. Soak in the silence. Step away and just sit. Read a book. Observe your surroundings. 

“Slow down” has not been in my vocabulary very long and is something I need to constantly remind myself to do. Mandali helped me implement tranquility into my day to day. I am coming up on the one-year mark from my silent retreat, and the lessons I learned still ring true in my life. Learning to let go has been a difficult but empowering experience that I hope to continue to foster. 


A memorial of the Hindu god Genesha, the elephant-headed deity was displayed at a reflection pond. Here, teachers and visitors would leave food for Ganesha such as nuts, coconut and leaves. (Ella Schuellerman)