Have you ever had to be completely silent while having a meal with six other people? Me neither…until this past Monday at a Silence and Solitude Retreat. The five of us – plus Matthew and Marvin – went about an hour north into the SoCal desert to a monastery. We got there in the morning and met with Father Patrick. He explained the nature of a silence and solitude retreat and then set us free to explore the grounds, take naps, pray, sit by the pond, do whatever our hearts desired. As long as we were silent.
I was really looking forward to it. I thought it would be easier for me. It certainly wasn’t difficult, but I kept trying to enter this contemplative, prayerful state and was having some trouble. Our minds are so used to going, going, going. It takes discipline to block out the noise from others, but also from ourselves. I was reflecting and realized I would’ve loved to stay there for a long weekend, or maybe even a week.
Another challenge I didn’t expect was resisting the urge to be close to my roommates and share stories and thoughts with them. Something funny that I witnessed. A random thought that popped into my head. A dream I had during a nap. They say happiness is only real when shared. I can’t help but think that I experienced that first hand.
Nonetheless, I found the retreat very rejuvenating and helpful. We didn’t get home until about 9:30 p.m. but I didn’t feel that tired or stressed. I felt ready to take on the hectic week to come. Throughout the day I was able to start the book we’re reading as a house, take a nap (twice), journal a bit, explore the hills of the desert, watch the sunset, and sit by the pond and watch the ducks.
Father Patrick spoke about “the spirit of silence”. Not everyone at the monastery is silent all of the time, of course. But they respect this “spirit” as they know some people – like our group – are there for that specific purpose. It was challenging, rewarding, and thought-provoking all at once. Even towards the end of dinner when we were allowed to finally break the silence, most of us didn’t want to. We sat there and continued to eat without speaking for several minutes. We genuinely enjoyed just sitting there with each other. For those of you who think it’d be too difficult to stay quiet, I think it’s worth a try, if you ever have the opportunity.
May we all find time in our days to really experience silence and solitude…