Retreat at St. Benedict's
I used to go on retreats a lot when I was a youngster - Buddhist retreats, yoga retreats, stints at monasteries in Thailand. You name it, I was willing to give it a go. But now my list of retreat venues has pretty much dwindled down to one - St. Benedict's monastery in Arcadia, on the outskirts of Sydney.
I have just returned from a few days there, and though I can't say I am much refreshed (an enormous pile of work awaited me on my return), I can say that there felt like there was some purpose to the retreat.
You see, I think that retreats are about ideas for me at the moment. A few days in relative isolation, relative silence, and media-free really gets my creative juices flowing, and I find I write like mad. I become an ideas machine, and make enormous lists of things to do when I get back to the real world.
I like the Benedictine monastery because no-one tries to boss me around.
So long as I turn up to the daily prayers and meals my time is pretty much my own. I have grown tired of the feats of endurance expected of me at Buddhist retreats, and the over-organised exertions of yoga camp. The Benedictine monks quietly pursue their own spiritual lives and leave me to do whatever I please.
And they don't ask me to clean the toilets.
And I love the prayer times - four times a day I sauntered into the chilly chapel to hear the exquisite chant of the little group of monks. Though to be honest, I find it kind of tough to be up in time for the 5.15am prayers. My favourite is the final office just before bed. After the chanting of the Psalms the monks gather around this image of the Virgin Mary and sing a hymn to her in Latin.
The Abbott then blesses us with holy water, and we make our ways silently back to our rooms and to our beds. An exquisite way to end the day.