Adjusting to quiet

April 14, 2011

While on retreat recently, I picked up Patrick Leigh
Fermor's A Time to Keep Silence. I
was making my own transition from noisy life and noisy mind to four days of
retreat when I came upon Fermor's description of his retreat at a French
monastery in the '50s.

My adjustment process isn't as difficult as Fermor's. For
one thing, I'm retreating close to home (and not close to Paris, as is Fermor);
for another, I don't find myself having to emerge from a "monsoon" caused by a drinking
habit. (I sneak away from the monastery to find good coffee, but I have yet to
sneak in a flask of Calvados.) In part because of his ignorance of monastic
life and then his sudden immersion into it, Fermor's is a humorous but accurate
account of the transition.

Here's Fermor afer his first four days at the Abbey of St.
Wandrile de Fontanelle:

My first
feelings in the monastery changed: I lost the sensation of circumambient and
impending death, of being by mistake locked up in a catacomb. . . .The mood of
dereliction persisted some time, a feeling of loneliness and flatness that
always accompanies the transition from urban excess to a life of rustic
solitude. . . .the desire for talk, movement and nervous expression that I had
transported from Paris found, in this silent place, no response or foil, evoked
no single echo; after miserably gesticulating for a while in a vacuum, it
languished and finally died for lack of any stimulus or nourishment.

Fermor ended up thriving at the monastery and focusing on
the book he had hoped to write. He compares his coming with his going and says
the departure was "ten times worse."

For more of Fermor and his visit to this and other
monasteries, see this
--or pick up the book and get thee to a monastery/convent.