I've had plenty of opportunity to talk about my trip over the past week, and I expect that will continue for a time. What I'm discovering is that people seem to be most curious about my retreat experience... A seven-day silent meditation retreat?? What did you do?!
Well, the point is, you're not supposed to be "doing" at all; the focus is on "being". That said, I still found that there was quite a bit of daily structure. I'm used to my silent retreats at Stillpoint being non-directed and completely unstructured. This retreat was quite different in many ways.
First of all, there were approximately 40 of us gathered for this retreat. (I'm used to being one of 3 - 5 guests at the retreat house!) We came from all over the world, brought together by our common practice of Christian Meditation. I also discovered that there are a variety of definitions of "silence". After travelling for two weeks, I was ready for true silence - internal & external. Others may not have had that same desire or need. I often came across retreatants having whispered conversations or moving away from our main residence to speak on their cell phone. Not everyone did this, but a few did - and this quickly became a distraction that I had to detach from. It forced me to focus on my interior silence to a greater degree.
It also didn't help that the Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore is also a major tourist attraction, thanks to the amazing frescoes depicting the life of St. Benedict. I had assumed - hoped? wished? - that our residence would be located away from the main tourist area but, alas, 'twas not the case. A small tourist information bureau & souvenir shop was located right under my bedroom window! Again, cause to let go of judgement and distraction...
My days were spent as follows:
6:30am - wake up to church bells (I opted to skip the 6:30-7am meditation period)
7:15am - 30 minute silent meditation with the group
8:00am - breakfast in silence
9:20am - yoga (this would alternate between a.m. & p.m. throughout the week)
11:00am - talk given by Fr. Laurence, our retreat leader
12:30pm - 30 minute silent meditation with the group
1pm - lunch in silence
afternoon - free time, usually spent reading, walking, napping, trying to stay cool...
5:30pm - eucharist/Good Company (ie. mass - included sharings from our day as well as another 30-minute silent meditation period right after communion)
7pm - dinner with talking! This is where we could actually get to know some of our fellow meditators...
9pm - Night prayer (Compline), Gregorian Chant with the monks in the church
9:30pm - Into great silence...
The theme of this retreat - and therefore of the talks given by Fr. Laurence - was Losing & Finding: "The greatest anxiety of the human heart is associated with loss - the loss of our life, loves or dreams. And the greatest joy is to find - life, love and hope. Yet are these two experiences so opposed and irreconcilable as we imagine? The Monte Oliveto retreat this year will focus on the paradox and dynamic of spiritual growth as entered through this universal human dilemma and opportunity."
So, there you have it. That's what I "did" on my retreat. :-) Now, to provide a few visuals, here are pictures from Monte Oliveto:
Pace e bene,