How will I survive a weeklong of quietness and stillness? This was a question I posed myself when I signed up for the seniors’ silent retreat. For a person as loquacious and as hyperactive as I am, I couldn’t place myself in a situation where I won’t be moving too much or completely talking for one whole week.
With Mikee’s (my college bestfriend) persistence I decided to join the seven day silent retreat. My original plan was only three days but she insisted that we take the one week package instead. With the tenacity of my friends from the campus ministry office as well, I decided to give in. Besides, I thought it won’t bite to challenge myself.
March 10-16, 2014
I was in a state of excitement and nervousness as we travelled to our destination. We left the city at six in the morning for another city where the retreat house was located. Although it was an eight hour drive, Mikee and I (being seatmates in the bus) opted to lessen our story sharing session. We actually slept most of the ride.
It was around 2:30 in the afternoon when we arrived in the retreat house which is owned and run by the St. Paul sisters. Our school’s retreat house in the same area couldn’t accommodate the 80 students so we were divided into two groups— half lodged in the Society’s retreat house while the other half (my group) stayed in the nuns’ retreat place.
After gathering our luggage in the lobby we were called in the conference room. Sir Cholo (our campus minister) proceeded to the first business of that afternoon— the collection of gadgets. We were given each a zip lock where we put all our phones, digital cameras, ipod, ipad and other gizmos that might cause distraction during the retreat. We weren’t allowed books, magazines and other reading materials except for the Bible. In short, we disconnected ourselves to the world in the duration of our stay.
Silence didn’t start until we got settled in our rooms and finished mass at six in the evening. Entering the silence didn’t simply mean shutting up and disengaging oneself to the external noise of the universe outside. Total detachment was required; hence, we had to cut off our communication even to those in the retreat. Yes, eye contact must be avoided while slowing down was highly encouraged.
Thus, during meal times I would sit as far away as I could from Mikee and the other people I know of. I was pretty certain that if I happened to be seated side by side or facing someone I am friends with, I would not be able to avert politely gazing and smiling at that person. Even in the conferences I picked the seat farthest from my friends. [Mac who is also a friend of mine, however, occupied the chair in front of me which also became his permanent seat like me. So we were actually seatmates for seven days.]
The retreat did me good. It actually reset my body clock which had been altered due to school work. The bell would ring at 6:30AM which was our waking hour. Then it would be sounded again at 7:00 for breakfast which will be followed by the 8:30 ring for conference. At 10AM we would eat our morning snack to be followed by the 12noon lunch. Another conference happened every 2:30 in the afternoon while the afternoon snacks were served at 4:00PM. By 6:00PM we would assemble in the chapel for the mass to be followed by dinner at 7:00PM. After that, exposition commences at 7:45PM and ends an hour later. Although there was no defined lights off I hit the sack at 10PM. [So, this was the daily schedule that we followed].
Not only did the retreat fix my ‘broken body clock’ it also restored the rhythm I somehow lost. We were urged to passively do everything which implied slowing down our walking, our movements, and our eating. I actually had no problem with the eating part because I am a tortoise when it comes to that. I learned to do everything fast when I entered college to compromise with the very limited time. But I never adjusted my pace when it comes to showering and eating— I revel in them.
But more than what I mentioned above it was the quiet that I appreciated most in that week of silence. I get to appreciate the simple things I didn’t pay attention to like the chirping of birds, the vibrant flowers, the towering trees, the buzzing of bees, the cold climate, the laughter of children, the barking of dogs, the taste of food, and the beating of my heart. Since we were in total silence, all my senses were aroused that I noticed the little things around me which I rarely acknowledge in the everyday chaotic and humdrum life.
Moreover, my spirit was nourished. I was able to reconnect with myself and with God. Considering the gizmos and other distractions were taken away, I had no other thing to do but to reflect and to pray. The empty spaces within me were filled with graces and the noisy stirring inside me was subdued. As I went deeper in the silence, I slowly drifted away from the ‘real world’ while converging with my ‘real self’.
The time wasted doing nothing was not actually wasted; in fact it was utilized effectively for examen which made me acquainted with who I truly am— my hopes and my desires. Ironically, I also discovered that I am the person I thought and claimed I wasn’t. Most importantly, I was able to discern which path to take after graduation— things that were blurred became clearer.
Furthermore, I was able to practice drawing and coloring as there was nothing else to do. I couldn’t take pictures of the places I had epiphany or my favorite spots in the area for remembering, since my phone was with Sir Cholo along with everyone else’s. Thus, despite my lack of artistic demeanor I forced myself to sketch the sites that formed a special meaning in my heart.
The breaking of silence. March 16, 2014. 9:00PM.
We were allowed to open our mouths and speak again after the small group sharing in the evening of Saturday. It was one hell of a zoo in the refectory where we were gathered for the agape (our celebratory feast for a successful retreat) because everyone was so ecstatic of the freedom to chat.
All the emotions that were contained in seven days were exploding like fireworks. Everyone was hugging friends and jumping with glee. The dining hall was filled with heartfelt and genuine laughter. People’s faces were so radiant; it was as if that week had washed everyone of his/her misery.
With new friendships made, we all went up the forest area and had our camp fire in there. We couldn’t attend the traditional university bonfire which was also happening that night. So we made our own mini one. We huddled around the fire to warm our bodies; it was insanely cold at dawn. I know it was a crazy idea to stay up until three in the morning outside in that kind of climate, but the feel of nature and the light of the moon that illuminates the darkness as well as the warmth of the bonfire were too beautiful to miss out. No one wanted to go inside and sleep.
What fascinated me was the relationship and the bond established among us, the retreatans. Even though we didn’t really have formal and proper interactions during the retreat, we were like long time friends already when the silence was broken. I am not quite sure how that happened because we weren’t conversing all throughout the week, but I presume that the quietness and stillness did help us form ties to one another. We disconnected ourselves to the world and magically we connected to our own selves and to real people we met in the retreat.