I recently booked myself in for a silent retreat at the local Carmelite Monastery. I say that like it’s something I go to often like my local Sainsburys. I needed a dose of inertia, stillness, recalibration or basically just a rest. A result of too much to do, too quickly with no time to do nothing. The silent bit of it intrigued me. How would I be without conversation for a weekend?
The itinerary was very precise. You arrive at 6.30 on Friday night and leave after lunch on Sunday with some talks and Mass to go to (not compulsory). My room reminded me of being a fresher at university but without the LPs and cheap wine. A single bed, a sink, and a chair and a Bible obviously. I had brought with me a heavy schedule of books to finish, to-do lists to polish up (old habits die hard) and some serious thinking about how my life should be going, and was not.
The food was much better than I had anticipated, sort of school dinners at their best, served I noticed at a hatch already plated up since having to pass the sprouts to one another would have involved speech or at the very least communication. What was wonderful was not having to make small talk, to have to find out where people had driven from and what they to do (or did) for a living. Marvellously liberating leaving me free to day dream and eat in peace. Just eating in silence and going out for a walks in the winter sunshine was thoroughly good for me. The talks given by the monks were surprisingly thought-provoking, the silent prayer really also rather restorative although not something I normally do. But this wasn’t normally.
The evenings were a bit of a challenge .Once you had eaten your supper by 7pm there was nothing to do except read, ponder, or sleep. I was asleep by 9pm both nights and slept immeasurably better than normal. Perhaps I should have been a nun. I can see that as institutional life goes it is probably the best on offer, and I have a feeling that once I enter into my seriously senior years, institutional life might start to be a distinct possibility. I commend the retreat as a re-charging exercise, and next time I am going to take even less to do, which perhaps indicates it sort of worked.