Monday, December 23, 2013

Monastery Life: Into Great...Hubbub

Speaking truth to chitchat.

Been a while since I've visited a monastery or any retreat center for that matter, so I'd forgotten how noisy these places can get. Great Silence? After 9:00 PM...with any luck or grace. Even then, it helps to know where to hide for optimal silence. (ProTip: find the library.)

Fortunately, I'm super savvy in this regard, thanks to 15+ years of involvement with a retreat center that hosted approximately 20,000 guests per year. Talk about noise and hubbub.

Those years, which included serving first as a volunteer and then as paid staff, are why I can find linens, run an institutional dishwasher, and can efficiently clean a guest room at any monastery or retreat house. Indeed, I'm mightily challenged to not plump pillows on sofas, pick up (used) tissues, empty wastebaskets, and change toilet paper in public bathrooms whenever I visit a retreat center, which is why unplugging at home is generally the best option for me.

It's also the most quiet one.

I'd forgotten how noisy these places can get and how the human need to engage manifests. I was bitching about all this -- in subdued tones, of course -- when my husband (a long-time associate with this monastic order) revealed the option of wearing a "silence" tag.

How swiftly I hurtled back in time. We had lovely tags beautifully hand-lettered with the words, "In Loving Silence" along with a sweet little heart. We gave them to guests attending silent retreats, which pretty much warded off conversation and even served to reduce eye contact. It was not unusual for staff to wear these lovely name tags to appear uber-contemplative and holy while thinking, "Do not freakin' talk to me."

This morning, I woke up to find a name tag with blank inserts lovingly provided by my husband. I'm tempted to use my purple pen and best calligraphy to write something super-judgmental like, "I'm in SILENCE, you should try it."  

I won't, of course.

Instead, I'll wear earplugs and revive another great skill: arranging my countenance to look like I'm in deep conversation with the Almighty. Or, crazy. Not like there's a distinct difference most days.


  1. I wonder if that explains my preferences for the night hours on long retreats...that deep, deep desire for silence.

    I was up at a local retreat house many years ago, for 24 hours of stolen silence. A quite elderly friend saw me at dinner, the only one sitting in the area reserved for the silent and stopped to say hello, my director, watching this from across the room said he stifled the urge to do a diving tackle and take down my interlocutor, "She's sitting in the silent section, leaver her alone!"

    Silently yours....

  2. Michelle: Probably! Those times of deep silence are bliss. Laughed (ruefully) at your meal anecdote. During today's midday meal one of the monks said, "you're awfully quiet." I decided to give him the crazy look, not the pious one.

  3. I live alone and yet I treasure silent retreats - individual silent retreats preferably, where I can be totally alone and silent. Where I go to retreat, there is a private dining room for individual retreatants and it is heavenly.

  4. This is gorgeous, and so true. Silence is so difficult for some. The older I get, the more I crave it.

  5. Yes a retreat is often the least silent place, oddly enough. I have to fight my own urges to speak, despite my deep yearning for silence.


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