I’ve just returned from a Weekend Silent Retreat at Sclerder Abbey in the lovely Cornish countryside nestled between Looe and Polperro.
“What! complete Silence?” is the most common response I get from those who find out about it!
This is my 11th year of going on Silent Retreats. Since 2012, I usually go once a year on a ‘proper’ retreat, I missed a few years because of Covid and on one year I went on a Pilgrimage instead.
This is my second time ‘retreating’ at Sclerder Abbey – a fascinating little place about 45 mins away from Plymouth – Originally it was a Monastery for an order of Carmelites, it is now managed by the Chemin-Neuf, an Ecumenical Christian community and acts as the local Catholic Church for the good folks of Looe and the surrounding area.
This retreat was split into 3 parts, I did the first part, which is a weekend retreat – Friday thru to Sunday. There is then another group that come Monday thru to Friday and the third part run a 7-day retreat from the Friday to Friday.
Due to the constraints of real life, I generally can only make the three-day (Friday-Sunday) retreat and I’m always somewhat envious of the weeklong retreatants.
However, in an earlier retreat I discovered that every time you go on retreat it builds on what you’ve done before and all the other ‘exercises’ you do on the way and between add to the experience. I’ve come to realise that ultimately – finding peace, calm and a sense of serene tranquillity can be accomplished in one breath! And that, in my time of life is far more realistic and beneficial.
But what’s it all about – why the heck at the age of 34 (back in 2012) did I suddenly want to go off on a silent retreat!?
I love the quote from the Jesuit Priest Anthony De Mello:
‘Silence is not the absence of sound; it is the absence of self!”
And he was right!!
When you get your ego self out of the way you discover who you really are and what’s really going on!
I also like the quote from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin – “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience”.
I’ve always had an interest in all things ‘spiritual’ – that’s what initially drew me to have such a strong interest in the Martial Arts – I’ve been fortunate to study and spend time with the Haida Native Americans in Western Canada and some other weird stuff along the way!
I’m also interested in all things human – which is why I squeeze as much out of my day as possible!
But a ‘proper’ retreat is a great opportunity for me to dive deep into my spiritual side – but what’s the point?
Jesus tells us “You must come away to a lonely place all by yourself and rest a while”.
Because it’s good for your Wellness and Well-Being.
These are two important words we hear a lot; they are very much at the heart of our business – SobeyFitness – We are very much about promoting greater mental health and emotional well-being thru physical fitness and holistic wellness!
“Are you well?”
Well-being simply means that your Being is well! And that the wellness of your life is in a healthy balanced and positive state.
A silent retreat offers you the chance to quieten your mind and dive into the ‘Well Spring’ of your soul and draw from that something to refresh and nourish your spirit in an effort to ‘raise your spirits’ for a better sense of being well and wellness.
Life is hard, with all the trials and tribulations, all the stresses and strains of the world it’s easy to get beaten down and despondent.
Bruce Lee famously said, “Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one”.
There is within us all an abundant source of spirit, but the trick is to be able to go to the well of your being, lower the bucket and draw up the goodness into your life.
It’s not always easy, and it’s not always sustainable but taking some time out to do this is so important to do.
Going away to Sclerder Abbey or somewhere that has a rich diverse environment around it helps you to latch into the abundance of energy that exists all around – the same can be found with a cup of tea sitting on your couch – simply close your eyes, quieten your breath and relax – what do you hear?
The retreats that I’ve had the most ‘success’ with are those run by the Plymouth Diocesan Spirituality Team – they follow the Spiritual Practices of St Ignatius (founder of the society of Jesus – The Jesuits) he promoted meditative reading and spiritual contemplating and listening with an open heart.
Ignatius was an interesting guy – the short version of his life goes like this: Born in Spain in 1491 into minor ‘nobility’ he had a military career and was interested in all things young men were interested in! It was after getting seriously injured and almost losing his leg! That, whilst recovering from his injury and being stuck in a hospital bed that he had a Spiritual Conversion and developed his Spiritual Exercises.
How did my Weekend pan out?
Arrival on the first evening is lovely where Fr Adrian the Spiritual Director along with the Spiritual Companions welcome you and after a brief intro, we split into our respective groups and enter into silence with a short, guided meditation.
This then rolls into quiet personal prayer time with adoration in the chapel then supper – in silence.
Mindful eating is a favourite of mine – I love food! but when you ‘dive’ into the plate and follow the journey of the carrot from planting to growing thru harvesting and then cooking and all the people involved in that process and all the input from nature it’s very humbling – and that simple carrot has become something to be truly blessed for!
The evening finishes with quiet time! Usually there is a poem or spiritual text to read and mull over and a word or phrase usually falls off the page and settles in your conscious and where it goes is the brilliance of meditation!
I always start my day with something physical – in the lovely Cornish Countryside this is easy, and I spent 3 hours hiking along the costal path – swimming in the sea and wandering in contemplative thought thru the fields and country lanes that lead back to Sclerder.
Returning to the Abbey just in time for my first session with my Spiritual Companion – the best thing about contemplation is then the opportunity to evaluate when you’ve ‘discovered’ in that quiet time and the role of the Spiritual Companion is to help with that and then guide you into another passage of text to contemplate and pray over – this is like visiting a sports coach or business mentor who helps tweak what you’re doing and then sends you on your way.
Early afternoon is mass – this is a central part of the experience. In the Chapel situated in the heart of the Abbey you can’t help but feel the ‘energy’ of all the people who have come before on their own Spiritual journey and their earlier intentions help set the scene and allows you to latch into certain vibration that boosts you on your way.
Fr Adrian leads Mass, and he is as learned as a scholar who speaks so eloquently drawing you (the listener) into a journey into the mass and the liturgy and for such a simpleton like me that makes the mass more relevant and applicable in todays world!
Mass is followed by lunch – again observed in silence, the food at Sclerder is lovely – organically grown and the result of a perma-culture experiment by the Chemin-Neuf – their homemade jams and chutneys are gloriously infused with the richness of the local environment and that feeling runs thru all the vegetables grown at the Abbey a combination of simpleness yet super tastiness in every mouthful.
Afternoons are lovely – quiet time to reflect on what ever contemplation has bubbled up to the surface. Wandering around the gardens of the Abbey and finding a quiet spot to listen!
The end of the afternoon finishes with a second opportunity to meet with my Spiritual Companion for another guided meditation into a ‘new’ piece of scripture or work of literature that will help ignite the senses and allow you to fall into another ‘gap’ of meditative consciousness.
Adoration draws us into the evening where we are able to sit in silent prayer. This usually last 45 mins but on this evening, I always feel the dichotomy of it going by at lightning speed whilst in the same instant have been so jam packed of ‘stuff’.
Again, this is followed by supper in silence – another lovely meal and even though there is no talking you feel and are boosted by your companions also on a Spiritual Journey.
A habit of mine on this the second night, is to head into the Chapel at dusk – usually about 9pm and light a candle of intention – before I come away on retreat I always put it out to my friends and family, if you have an intention let me know and I’ll light a candle and ‘send one up’ for them – the first time I ever said this I felt a bit uncool and self-conscious but I was amazed by the response and the requests from people I thought were as far away from all things spiritual or religious as possible – I’ve realised over time, that when you make an invitation the most unexpected people will welcome it! I then spend the rest of my evening offering up those intentions along with that little candle.
The final morning is always bittersweet – you are really in the zone, but you know it’s coming to an end! On the one hand you look forward to seeing the family again, at the same time you don’t want to leave that feeling of peace.
I had an early breakfast and donned my walking shoes and planned to do a lap of the field but found myself spending another 3-hour hike heading in the opposite direction getting lost in the wildlife – the environment and my own meandering conversations with the divine (or maybe myself!). meditating in this way – fully activating your senses and exerting the body pushes your mind and thoughts into calmness and then you can hear what’s truly important and of relevance to you.
Upon returning to the Abbey it was my final session with my companion where we conclude my retreat – usually finishing with a lovely prayer and some future readings to take away from the weekend.
Mass and then a final meal in silence and then it’s home time!
You leave the retreat in a cool calm serene and tranquil state – it’s a state that is close to bliss and the real trick of all these retreats is to get back there to that state of bliss in a heartbeat – I don’t profess to be the calmest person in the room, and when a few days after coming home a seagull chick fell down our chimney and we had to rescue it! I did start to ‘flap’ (more than Gerald the name we gave the fledgling) BUT we got it sorted and in a relatively short space of time Serene Tranquillity was restored!
The Journey of the wandering Pilgrim continues.
In a life that never ends – conversing on a soul level is lovely, if you’d like to know more then I’d invite you to reach out.