Last weekend I’ve been travelling north, to the Netherlands for a weekend retreat. On this dark and windy autumn Friday evening I arrived at an old priory where the retreat was hold. It’s situated in a former cloister, surrounded by a beautiful park with ancient trees. They recently had to cut a tree down of 275 years old. It’s diameter is even bigger than my length!
The lights and cosy chairs looked inviting through these typical old windows of this coach house where I stayed. It’s a place that offers retreats between an inn and a cloister.
This retreat was about living with attention according to saint Benedict. He was a monk who lived in the 5th century and formed his own monastic order. He contributed a book of rules that was accepted as the way western monks should live to the present day. But surprisingly much of these rules are still valuable today and are a necessary guideline in our hectic, rushing life!
Reading and reflecting at this big cloister table while the sun is shining through the autumn leaves. It was such a peaceful and beautiful place to be still and enjoy the stillness.
What does it mean to live attentive and how to give it shape in our life? That’s what I and 9 other people have been reflecting on, reading about and shared with each other. One of the things we learned about was “stabilitas”; not giving up and doing your task with all your attention. Everything that gets your attention, will grow. It’s all about listening with the ear of your heart and focusing your thoughts on what you’re doing right now. Not thinking about all the other things you need to do (a lot to learn here for me!). And there’s no difference in your tasks, cleaning the toilet is as equal as being hospitable. Do we stand still about what we like and what is beautiful? Spending free time is just as important as working time. Giving space to free time will only benefit your working time.
We also had a short chapel celebration 3 times a day at fixed hours, just like one used to do in a monastery. It was a time to be still, pray, sing and meditate. It was such a serene chapel with the burning Christ candle, the cross, an open bible and a very beautiful and peaceful view on the trees in the park .
We enjoyed delicious meals together at the big cloister table in the cosy and atmospheric living room. In our free time I read books from their extensive library and often walked in the park, looking at the golden leaves falling down every time the wind blew in the trees. It was like golden snow falling down, how magnificent!
On the last day we had a creative exercise and could use a lot of creative materials to make something that we could take home with us and would remind us of what we have learned.
I made a clay leaf with a tiny hole, roots made of branches and moss. The leaf represent the structure and time as noticeable in nature and how I also have to accept there’s a time for everything (working time and free time). When one takes time to be attentive and look through the small hole you’ll see the tiny skeleton of a leaf, representing my desire to daily take the time to see/hear/read beauty. The roots represent how living with attention has to be deeply rooted in my life to make it happen. And being at this retreat has been deepened my roots.
I went home with an enriched and inspired heart and practical ideas how to change little things in my life to live with more attention. It will be a daily learning process of trial and error. It was comforting to hear from the others that they struggle with it too.
Let’s try to listen and attend with ear of our heart today… and give all of our attention to our current task.