Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Silent Retreat…. gulp!

Regular readers will have probably picked up on the fact that I am somewhat of a chatter box. After all, if I weren’t then you would have nothing to read. You can use your own judgement as to whether that would be a good or bad thing!! When I did my gap year with Tearfund they did a personality quiz on the first day and mine came up as about 99% activist and tiny proportions of every other trait. I like people and bustle and laughter. The countryside freaks me out. I’m not much of a fan of prolonged periods of silence. I grew up under the Heathrow flight path and next to a relief road so I find traffic noise oddly comforting. 

All this considered this week’s adventure was rather out of character. With a lot of interesting challenges coming up over the next few weeks I decided to go for a silent retreat. Yes, you heard me correctly. The house I booked to go to, St Katharine’s Parmoor, is in the middle of the countryside near Henley. After an adventurous journey to the house via lots of winding roads and a slightly bemused taxi driver I arrived to breath-taking scenery, a gorgeous old house and A LOT of silence. 

One of the stained glass windows in the entrance way to the house
The house itself is rumoured to have been owned by the Knights Templar, was an Anglican Convent and is now owned by Sue Ryder Care as a retreat and conference centre. As I entered the house I felt like a cross between Belle in Beauty and the Beast and Catherine Moorland in Northanger Abbey. Every corner of the house had something to look at and wonder about.  I was lead up to my room via a huge entrance way with a sweeping staircase and an enormous stain glass window at the top. My room had huge bay windows looking out onto the majestic Cedar tree that dominates the centre of the grounds. Legend has it that it originated from seed bought over from Lebanon.

After lunch which, like all my meals, I ate alone at a table for six in the old library (feeling rather forlorn!) I sat myself in one of the arm chairs in my room looking out at the cedar tree. I have to say the concept of 24 hours more of me, myself and I wasn’t desperately appealing just then but to my surprise I found that I actually started to enjoy the peace and quiet. The view of red kites soaring around the trees and the sun going down over rolling hills certainly made it is a pleasant spot to do a little thinking. 

I take time out every day to sit, think and pray so this wasn’t a completely foreign experience but I have never done it for quite this length of time before.  Half way in it was touch and go as to whether I would end up saying this but - I really would recommend it!  Even more so if you’re like me and naturally outgoing and chatty. I could tell you in minute detail of the fixtures and fittings of the library where I ate, or paint you (badly, most likely!!) that view from my bedroom window from memory because I wasn’t distracted from the detail around me by the sound of my own voice or even, after a while, my own thoughts which quieted down with my surroundings. For the first time in ages I was aware of time passing. I’m often so rushed. I enjoy being busy really but this made me realise what I might be missing by dashing from one place to the next all the time.

I didn’t come away with any grand revelation about the course of my life, in fact I felt very comforted that all that thinking and praying left me convinced that the path I’m on is the right one. But I am reminded of the benefit of a little alone time for getting on the right course, or keeping on it.  Life is very noisy indeed and sometimes silence is just what you need to let the important stuff get a look in. Oooh Get Me!!


  1. Hooray! Another person who has discovered the beauty and value of silence. I'm a huge fan of silent retreats ad am so glad your first experience was so positive. We are just too good at fin ding distractions most of the time, but silence makes us slow down and ponder and sometimes just be.

  2. I seem to remember when I got made to go on a Silent Retreat, a few hours in I had almost lost my sanity and ended up sneakily calling you just to be able to talk to someone!

  3. Ha ha, yes I remember that La! Enforced silence is perhaps not the way to go!

    I really agree Perpetua and I think it's probably something that gets richer and richer as you get over the oddness that you feel to begin with!