The Gift Of Monastic Life For Non-Monastics
By Bruce Davis, Ph.D.
It is 6 a.m. There are no morning bells, no knock at the door. The sun is rising. This is good enough reason to begin to rise. The sky is a painted picture of orange, purple and blue clouds and light. I don’t know if the guests are rising or not. I am staring out the window. If life is a painting, the canvas is spectacular in these minutes. The sun’s rays are stirring slowly over the Sierra Mountains and the grand valley below is quiet with a blanket of morning due. There is no hurry. There never is a hurry at this monastery.
Breakfast occurs when and as people want. Everyone prepares their own meals as easy or deluxe as they wish. If someone needs coffee with special milk or sweetener no problem. They bring it with them. All meals are this way. We are here for the silence, free time, to simply be but mostly for the silence.
A sweet stillness begins upon wakening and continues all day and night until going to sleep. The first sounds this morning are the Canadian geese making their morning honks as they fly by. Today song birds join in, lifting the air, incredible. Then quiet again. This evening the day will close with the hooting of several owls. The first sights of the day are two deer laying in the tall grass. Rabbits join my morning walk and a coyote in the distance. This time of year there is lots of green with little flowers on the many acres of our hermitage surrounded in land and sky of a peace and quiet seemingly without end. We share the abundant nature with neighboring farmers on this mountain top an hour north of San Francisco.
9:00 a.m. There are bells. We are meeting together for morning meditation. We sit together for an hour each morning and then again at 7 p.m. for another half hour. These two times of day its nice to share the grand silence together. The meditation is simple. We offer everything we find in our hearts. In the beginning guests are sometimes a little anxious with worries about everything left at home or questions about what happens when their monastic stay is over. But after a few days, people find themselves offering their river of thoughts which brings them to a greater river of inner peace.
The second part of the meditation after offering everything in our heart is going inside as much as we can and receive the gentleness within. Everyone has their own experience. There is no right or wrong. We are simply taking time to receive the landscape of our heart. Most people quickly find underneath the busy mind is a vastness, a space of simple being, an abundant quietude.
The quiet outside supports us to find the pure stillness inside. Meditation is taking time to feel the silent place in our heart. I call it our heart essence. Our busy awareness is washed in the silence. Without the bouncing waves of our normal hectic lives, we can see inside deeply. We hear an inner stillness which is very nurturing. This is the monastery part of the experience. Sitting together two times in the quietude each day is a community experience as well as a deeply personal one. We are sharing the golden silence in a room of many lit candles, flowers, surrounded by windows overlooking lots of nature.
10:00 a.m. There is time for individual private questions, consultation about their retreat, or finding a true path now in their lives. This time is available for any of the guests who wish before going off to enjoy the day.
11:00 a.m. Everyone is invited to sacred movement ritual which is a like a simple tai chi. It is prayer in movement surrounded in the vast beauty of nature, and silence.
11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. The day is everyone’s to do as they wish. The silence during the day is like sharing a spiritual library. It is not so much about not talking but about having personal time, about receiving and enjoying peace and quiet. Guests take walks, journal, rest, discover their own simple joys and creativity. Many people never have real free time. An important part of this monastery if having time to feel our hearts, nurture our hearts, enjoy the life of heart. This includes free time. The days feed all our senses, our heart as we practice being wonderfully present.
During the day I visit my favorite altars. Until recently this was a bench with a grand view over the valley below. There is another bench on the hill above the main house with a 360-degree view in all directions. In the last week or so the wild flowers have come. This is my altar in these days. First I go down in the small valley under the house and sit in the pine forest. The wind carries away all thoughts any inner distraction. Then when my mind has slowed down, open, available...
I walk the 50 feet to this field of purple wild flowers growing in the dark green grass. Here is a heaven realm. There is no other way to say it. I sit and let the flowers pick up and let down their petals as they do. The green and purple colors are dancing. The wild flowers are happy, very happy. They are here only for a few weeks. I don’t want to miss them. I want to hear what they hear, see and breathe their joy. Soon they, like all of us someday, will be disappearing into the vast silence.
Days fly by. I am blessed to live in our little monastery without walls and share it with guests. I could leave anytime but where would I go? We have clouds, butterflies, lizards, and yes, lots of silence. Most days this is more then enough. Instead of us leaving, we enjoy people visiting. They come for as few as three nights and as long as nine or more. Guests come from neighboring San Francisco and as far away as Germany and Hong Kong. We have only rooms for nine people. Usually we are just a few with lots of peace and quiet all around us. Although we rarely share each other’s stories we do share a lot of stillness, gentleness, open sky, heart. Being in the moment, the monastic experience is exquisite, very healing for our tired nerves and body. Life is more complete somehow, more radiant. I love our monastic life without the rules, schedule and theology of monasticism.
Silence, simple joy, beauty, peace and quiet are universal. Our little monastery hopes to support the monastic in everyone who comes. Guests are always welcome and many return again and again. When they go home, we remind them to find a little silence, offer everything in the heart, and receive everyday the treasure of their heart. The gifts of monasticism are many. They grow inside slowly, stone by stone as a living church or temple for all of us.
I invite everyone who finds their inner monk ready for an embrace of many simple joys to not wait but indulge. Life is short and very rich in the substance of life itself.
Bruce Davis, Ph.D. is a retreat leader at Silent Stay Retreats www.SilentStay.com.
Cover Photo From www.juliatiffin.com