I’d wanted to take a silent retreat for about a year, and finally found a time and place to experience it. Located about a mile from the Abbey of Gethsemani, Bethany Spring is the Merton Institute Retreat Center. An idyllic setting with several small cottages on a pond, it’s a serene and peaceful place to be. But 24 hours of silence? What was I thinking? Going from the hustle of everyday living, it was evidence that we live in a very noisy world. Silence seemed to be deafening as I walked in the door…
It was a practice of being still and present. In the Now. Listening deeply to myself and my God all around me. Not thinking about the past or future, but cultivating a true place of mindfulness in my mind and heart. I rotated between services at the Abbey, walking meditations on the grounds (some with my camera), reading and designated periods of prayer and meditation. I didn’t want to push, plan, manage or do anything, and be in a place to see what unfolded.
It was hard! I definitely had “monkey mind” as it’s called… my mind going from one thing to another… Lots of shiny objects were distractions. It was a continuous naming, and then refocusing on the present. I’d read for the first time, all the way through, Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, and deeply moved by his life and character…. “Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way” took on a more meaning for me. How do I live in the space between stimulus and response? How do I live through a space that allows me to choose my response? If within this response lies our growth and freedom, what am I choosing right now? So I spent time, what seemed to me like a long time, in the questions and not looking for an answer.
And looking back on the experience, I ask myself how I grant myself the space to be quiet on a regular basis. Some of it feels like giving myself permission! In the world we live in, and especially the professional world of productivity where I have spent countless hours working with others on this topic, we want to measure and quantify and do. And that’s ok, but it’s not all of it. Stopping and having the courage to listen to answers in any realm of our lives seems to be the bigger challenge. No, you don’t have to go away on a silent retreat, but how do you stop and really listen? What questions are you in right now? What are you choosing right now?