Shutting the hell up starts with breathing
I checked into my bunk room with another guy who I wasn't able to talk to, and then hit the common area where they gave us the lowdown on what to expect. The goal of the retreat, as I understood it, was to remove all thoughts from our minds so that we could glimpse, if only for a moment, the feeling of enlightenment. (I'm pretty sure they didn't use that word, but from my reading of Siddhartha at the time I was pretty sure that's what they meant.)
The next day we filed into the "great hall" and there he was: the yogi. White robe, flowing beard, seated cross-legged in front of us, the whole deal. After we were given mats and little stools to rest our legs on, it began.
"Focus on your breath," our instructor said, in the calmest meditation-dude tone possible. "Just imagine your thoughts are like monkeys, hopping from branch to branch. When a thought comes, recognize it, and let it pass." The goal was to stop our "monkey minds" from jumping from one random thought to the next, which can be a source of stress and unhappiness. He told us repeatedly to focus on our breath "going in one nostril, and out the other" as we inhaled and exhaled, over and over again.