Two-and-a-half days in a monastery. No media. No work. Silence. About as simple and stripped-down of a life as you could get. That’s what I went to embrace. I went to hear the voice of God, my Father, and to just rest. On the one hand, I had no expectations: just to go and “be.” On the other hand, let’s be honest: silence? solitude? hours of prayer? MONKS, for crying out loud?
Surely, this is the place where God is going to speak, to say something profound.
Either way, I was ready.
When I came back home, a few people were prompting me about the experience. By and large, however, my experience was pretty subtle. God surely spoke, and I wrote some things down; things that will have (hopefully) long-term positive effects in my soul and my life…
But this was no “mountaintop.”
This was stretching, but it wasn’t a shock to my system. These days were an extension of practices I’ve already tried to put in place in my “every day” life.
So there was no great upheaval.
… And I loved it.
I think that somehow we’re predisposed to seek the mountaintop. We expect to soar high and then drift back to earth.
But that makes for a pretty up-and-down, almost schizophrenic spirituality. We binge and purge, so to speak, rather than dine regularly on healthy spiritual disciplines.
For the past few years, I have tried to cultivate an attitude of peace in my daily life. I build practices in order to help me maintain that peace, clarity and centeredness. On a retreat, those practices are enhanced and extended (hopefully), but not necessarily, introduced.
Alan Watts says that the only zen you find on a mountaintop is the zen you carry up with you.
For those who may be uncomfortable with that language, you could just as easily say it this way: “They only spiritual peace you find on a mountaintop (or in a monastery) is the spiritual peace you carry up (in) with you.”
I love retreats: I’m planning on going back in a few months for an even longer stay.
But I’m planning on carrying in a lot of peace with me then as well, if for no other reason than I can’t stay in a monastery forever.
My life is not lived on the mountain. It’s lived in the swamp (almost literally?). It involves cranky kids and bad jokes; taking out the trash and washing the dishes; waking up early and sometimes staying up too late.
All of that can be just as beautiful as a mountaintop (or just as hellish, depending on how I’m doing on a given day).
My hope is that more of us stop running after mountains, and start cultivating that interior, detached peace that is offered to all of us, regardless of our geography.