Because I am a chatty person and it is hard for me to be quiet, I found myself, at an early age, drawn to the idea of a contemplative society that calls on its members to be silent, if not always, at least for long stretches from time to time.

The first time I successfully meditated — and by that I mean my body remained still long enough to feel the air moving into my lungs and out into the room again, and to hear the empty space between thoughts — it was 27 floors above the Brooklyn-Queens expressway. I was a teenager visiting relatives, escaping the hubbub of family and realizing the city offered few opportunities for solitude. I went into my cousin’s room, stretched out on a bed, and let my mind go with the traffic on the BQE.

Breathe in the hum of road noise; breathe out peace.

After that, my meditation practice was pretty much limited to the five or so minutes at the end of a yoga class, when we’d all lie together in corpse pose. I appreciated the philosophy of Buddhism, the idea that the loss and disappointment that lead to much of human suffering can be lessened when one learns to be present without attachment, but I just couldn’t sit still.

When I was in my tender twenties, learning to create my own loss and suffering, I met a guy who lived in a macrobiotic study house near Boston. The house parent, for want of a better title, was a Zen Buddhist priest named Genro. I don’t remember how often the house sat in meditation, but I remember it as feeling austere and overwhelming.

Someone asked Genro, after a long sit, what it was like to have no thoughts. “I have thoughts,” he said. “I just don’t hold on to them. It’s usually something like the shopping list.”

Last fall I sat in my living room with a kind woman from Belfast and we quietly breathed together for 10 or 15 minutes. It felt good and we agreed to meet online the following week. That did not feel as good, the screen a distraction and her breathing too far away.

I tried sitting alone. Sometimes it worked but it didn’t become the habit I wanted it to be.

One quiet day at work, I searched online for “silent retreats near me” and found the Aryaloka Buddhist Center in Newmarket, New Hampshire and a listing for a week-long event called “Noble Silence,” for experienced meditators. Sitting for 15-minutes, listening to the kitchen clock click the seconds by, a handful of times had not made me feel experienced.

I gave up on cultivating silence until mid-December, when my boss suggested I take the week between Christmas and New Years off. I went back to Aryaloka’s calendar and found “Winter Stillness Meditation Intensive: Sublime Abiding,” five days the website called “… a wonderful opportunity to access the peace, silence, and stillness that is potential in all of us. Living and practicing together as a spiritual community,” the description said, “our efforts support one another on the journey to equanimity.”

I signed up and a week later found myself driving from my daughter’s post-holiday apartment to a pair of geodesic domes in the woods west of Portsmouth.

This is where it gets difficult. How can I describe the experience of turning off my body’s mechanism for description? What does it feel like to let go of words, sentences, ideas?

We gathered at 4 p.m. that first evening, sat on a couple of couches and a bunch of chairs, and told each other our names and where we were from. We were given some information about the retreat, talked about logistics, and went into silence.

I didn’t hear those names again until we left the silence five days later. Once again I had gone from the hubbub of family to a quiet room.

I slept on a single bed, tired from the previous day’s activity, and woke to the sound of a high-pitched gong. It was 6:30 and time to make my way to the the Shrine Room, a large circular space at the top of one of the domes, pine-floored and scattered with cushions, a carpet filing the space in front of an altar upon which sat a life-sized statue of the Buddha. Flickering electric candles lit vases of flowers surrounding the seated icon.

We twelve students found places around the room, settled onto our cushions, each of us creating a pile that we hoped would keep us somewhat comfortable for the next 40 minutes. Some sat on chairs; a couple of us stretched out, supine on the flattest of the cushions. We wrapped ourselves in blankets and, as the teacher offered simple instruction, began to focus on our breathing.

That first day was dedicated to metta, the principle of loving-kindness, the idea to which our wandering minds would return, over and over and over. After the first meditation we took a short break to stretch stiff legs and ankles and shoulders, returning afterward to our places for another 40 minutes. Then it was 9 o’clock and time for breakfast.

Each day bore the same pattern. Rise to the gong at 6:30, sit for two hours. Eat a breakfast of oatmeal, fruit and nuts, with hard-boiled eggs for protein and a variety of breads. There were teas, coffee, and hot cocoa, and then a little time until 10:30 when we returned to the Shrine Room for the day’s lesson and another 40 minutes on our cushions.

At noon we had lunch, usually a soup and salad, with more bread and beverages. After the tables were cleared by two or three of the students, I went into the kitchen to help chop vegetables for that evening’s casserole or stir-fry, a task I shared with another student under the direction of the center’s chef and a local volunteer.

At 4 o’clock we were back on the cushions for another double sit of back-to-back 40-minute meditations, and then it was time for supper. At 7:30 we gathered once more before the Buddha’s statue for a short meditation and puja, a ceremony of giving thanks to the Buddha and bodhisattvas who show us the path to this learning. This was the schedule for four full days, each day exploring a different facet of the expanding compassion that is central to Buddhist practice.

Between the meals and meditation, I took walks in the woods and on the dirt road that led back to the world. I read a book I found on the $5 shelf in the Center’s gift shop. I listened to the noise of my mind receding and contemplated compassion.

Slowly, the other students stopped being the caricatures my thoughts had made of them. The fidgety one became the person who helped me see how hard it is to find stillness. The know-it-all was a mirror of my own bossy judgment. The fearful one showed me the courage needed to take risks.

My 69-year-old body taught me resistance and letting go, breath after breath, and for stretches of moments I found myself present and compassionate without attachment.

And then it was Saturday morning. We shared a last breakfast together and sat once again on the couches and chairs, telling each other our names.

Shlomit Auciello is an award-winning writer, photographer, and human ecologist who has lived in Midcoast Maine since 1988. Letter From Away has appeared online and in print, on and off since 1992, and is published here on a bi-weekly basis.