Finding space in silent meditationReflections on the experience of attending the School Retreat - 4th – 10th November 2013

Led by Kim Nataraja and organised by Pam Connolly

Fourteen of us gathered for a six days of silence at the Monastery of Our Lady and St Bernard, which was founded by the Bernardine Cistercian Order in 2006, and is in the Cotswolds in an ‘Area of Natural Outstanding Beauty’.

These are a few of our comments on living in silence:

“The idea of a week of silence and meditation had seemed very attractive following our regional weekend retreat last year but as the date for the School Retreat approached I began to feel increasingly nervous.  Would I be able to cope?  Wasn’t this a huge self-indulgence at a very busy time of the year?  Helped by beautiful surroundings, a very cosy room and the hospitality of the Sisters, I began to settle into the rhythm of meditation, gentle exercise, teaching sessions and daily personal conversations with Pam or Kim.  I was having a lovely time and it wasn’t until a couple of days in that I realised that some serious ‘work’ was needed.  This certainly was not self-indulgence – away from the usual distractions and with Kim and Pam’s inspiration I became aware of all sorts of insecurities and excuses for not being open to going deeper.  By the end of the retreat I felt that things had shifted somewhere deep down, small chinks had opened up and meditation practice had become even more precious.  The need to share this practise seems increasingly relevant.”

- Sue Ingham

“It was a challenge to decide to give up my familiar daily life and go away to a new place to be in silence with a group of people most of whom I didn’t know. However we chatted for a while when we arrived and realised we were all there with the intention of going deeper and discovering more. There were five periods of meditation a day, a personal time each day with one of our facilitators, and a talk each day on the Gospel of Thomas. We had the opportunity for expression through art and poetry and time for walking in the beautiful countryside. Gradually I began to appreciate the feeling of spaciousness and of being lovingly held. The atmosphere was gentle and there was lots of laughter. I came away with what I had gone for, a deeper and more committed connection with my faith.”

- Patricia Hay

“The retreat for me was very special. Having meditated for several years I had reached quite a 'dry' point when it felt at times as if I was only going through the motions - though I was keeping faithful to the discipline.
Re-discovering God's unconditional love for me and the wonder of my meditative journey within the richness of the silence of the week was just the nourishment my spirit needed however and I came away feeling renewed and refreshed.   The 6 daily meditation sessions were not as hard as I had envisaged and I slipped into the rhythm of each day quite comfortably. It was a relief just to 'be' - in silent companionship with my fellow retreatants.   For anyone thinking of going on such a retreat - just do it: I am so glad I did.”

- Barbara Jones

“My experience was altogether positive. I found the silence easy and 'cleared the way' for deeper thought. Without the responsibility of making social chit chat I could really concentrate on meditation. Communicating by notes encouraged me to only ask pertinent questions. By not hearing other people's views & experiences I could settle into my own uninterrupted musings uncoloured by other people. In a way it opened a path that was scattered with extraneous thoughts. I suppose all in all it was a wonderful luxury which I think will have a profound effect on my life - time will tell, so far so good!  The daily meetings with Pam were useful in backing up one's resolve not to open a book "it’s only a few days can't you really try."

- Jill Tremellen

Creating connections with others in silence“I found the retreat very stimulating, and especially enjoyed the talks, in my case with Kim, and the teaching. I have been reading The Gospel of Thomas for many years and was, therefore, very excited to have the chance to discuss my favourite gospel with Kim. The retreat has given me a much better idea of how to use it as a form of Lectio Divina, which I continue to do.”

- Lynda Stark

“Spending several days in silence gave me more than I ever expected… ‘go to your cell and it will teach you everything you need to know’ came often to my mind. I found the silence - loving, uplifting, inspiring, enriching, soothing, and at times unnerving.”

- Vicky Lamb

“A silent retreat is a bit like going to a Spa. There's a lot of pampering and some gentle prodding (from the Spirit) which is sometimes uncomfortable or even painful but one knows it is all in a good cause. Whilst there, one receives lots of food for thought often leading to a thorough cleansing of the soul which, revitalised, leaves one ready to meet the world again with renewed energy”.

- Roz Stockley