I received a few friendly messages yesterday questioning the need for a silent retreat – in response to the last blog post. It has prompted me to write a post on my own experience of the need to ‘withdraw from the world’ from time to time. Notice this is greater than just silence. We had an excellent talk this morning about the mystical and integrative aspects of the Spiritual Exercises. By making a retreat we are choosing to make ourselves ‘extra-ordinarily available to God’. By leaving behind phones, internet, newspapers we are able to reduce what stimulates us – this is not sensory deprivation but sensory refocusing and then we can start listening!
If you are not convinced – stop for a moment – how many tabs are open in your web browser? What music / radio / noise is in the background? Is your phone nearby so that you can be alerted when you get a text? We seem to live an age of overstimulation. Hyperstimulation – anyone who has worked with young people recently know how challenging it can be to get long periods of focused attention. Ipods, Laptops, Smartphones, Tablets, Sat Nav, TV all clamouring for our attention. Religious or not – it is good to withdraw from this every so often and allow our minds to ‘defragment’.
In my own life I have a growing desire to find places of wilderness to ‘recreate’. Working in a school the last four years I witnessed first hand the growing phenomenon of ‘Digital Addiction’. So it became more important for me to unplug once in a while – to be ‘disconnected’. I relished reading Sarah Maitlands ‘A Book of Silence‘ last year, fascinating and challenging. Exploring the nature of silence, as experienced by Artic Explorers, Round the World Yachtsman, Buddhist Monks as well as in the Christian and mystical tradition. Did you know that Buddhist Monks are not allowed to take a permanent vow of silence, because if they reach enlightenment they are obliged to teach!
For St Ignatius – silence is not just about ‘defragmentation’ – but also about reordering our lives so as to seek and find Gods Will. So there is content in the Silence of the Spiritual Exercises, a framework which is uncannily effective at creating teh context in which the God will deal directly with the Soul, the Creator with the creature (or created!). Exercitants often report healing during their retreats. And the role of he or she whose job it is is to accompany? To get out of the way of God! but also to keep a gentle and wise eye on how things are unfolding. For more information about Ignatian retreats click here.