It’s five in the morning. The bells will ring at six. I got up early. The meditation hall is empty. I love to be there alone. The energy of everyone on retreat feels like a powerful heartbeat. The room is pulsating with the potential of life. At six when the bells strike the air with a deep and urgent call, the pigeons will fly out from their nests, the swallows and sky larks will slice through the morning sky – another day of movement and possibilities.
I love being on retreat with others. This year at Monte Oliveto near Siena, Tuscany – the theme of the retreat was “Change”. Change is very important for a writer. You have to be prepared to die to every word on the page and be born to the next. You need silence to be able to catch like a fisherman the next word or image. Change – at the deepest level is about transformation – changing your relationship with yourself and others. Meditation helps you do that – helps you die and let go. John Main said, ” You will then soon discover that life is always marvellously fresh, continually exciting, because it is always expanding. Your sights are always expanding into infinity, not contracting into this or that passing object of satisfaction. That is why a person meditates.”
For a writer you know the importance of expanding into infinity – of letting your characters become deeper and more real with every scene that you write – of capturing the emotion that plummets to the depths of the ocean or soars like the skylarks high towards a disappearing moon at sunrise. You hear the laughter of those you have created and are splashed by their tears. You wonder what they will want to do next. You find out in the silence.
I love the community aspect of being on retreat also as inspiration for writing. You watch the shuffling swollen feet of a stranger head towards the slowly boiling kettle. You can only wonder what their world is beyond the monastery – what brought them here? The young monks singing their Gregorian chants in a world which mainly ridicules their existence. Yet as a writer you are humbled and filled with wonder at this discipline of living in community and thinking of others. That is what the writer has to do – to think of others – to turn with love to every person who breathes on the page. You have to stay with them a long time – perhaps forever – with fidelity and commitment. You learn to taste the beauty of doing that on retreat.