Perched above Lucia in Big Sur, about an hour north of Cambria, sits the hospitable hermitage — a type of monastery — where Camadolese Benedictine monks live in solitude, prayer and work. You and I are invited to partake. The hermitage offers rooms for those who feel it is time to live and breathe in silence and contemplation.
I fully expect 2016 to be a busy year. So I designated January with a self-imposed 30 Mindful Days project. The fitting end of the 30 days was two nights and days at the hermitage. The goal was to summarize my 30 mindful days — days where I limited my social life, consumed books, scribed my thoughts, and cleared my mind. It was an imperfect experiment. The final retreat, however, fulfilled my purpose.
The monks welcome retreatants from all walks of life and faith but insist that silence is the golden rule — except in the bookstore, and if one chooses to walk with another along the two-mile road that winds its way to the property from Highway 1.
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For about $130 a night, my room was sparse, with a toilet and sink, and a private garden that overlooked the Pacific Ocean. The price included three vegetarian meals a day. The unspoken benefit was exactly that — no speaking.
When I arrived, an overwhelming emotion swelled like the stormy sea below, and brought me to tears. I stood in my room (one of nine rooms linked to a communal kitchen, two private showers, and a borrowing library), and I gazed out the window while the sun transformed the sky into 50 shades of gold. A forlorn manuscript in a three-ring binder, that I hoped to finish, along with a stack of three books, seemed to stare back at me and ask, “Now what?”
In truth, I had no agenda or concept of what would happen during this stay. But I did know that my iPhone and computer were without cell or Internet, there was no television or radio — and definitely no talking to other retreatants.
The literature on the desk invited me to attend the monks’ liturgies, which begin at 5:30 a.m. and run throughout the day, ending at 6 p.m. followed by a half-hour meditation. The literature also noted that spiritual counseling was available.
I was drawn to the 5:30 a.m. vigils. The candle ceremony and procession, followed by sung prayer and recitation resonated with inspiration in the architecturally spare chapel. The sun was yet to rise at the conclusion of morning vigils. It set a perfect tone for a day of solitude. In fact, I so loved the silence and the freedom to contemplate without fear of interruption, that I skipped the midday Mass, which, I was told, is a must-do for its particular style of prayer. But I did close out my day with evening vespers followed by a meditation. The experience was so energizing that I read for hours and way past my usual bedtime.
I’m not spiritually conflicted, nor is my life in a knot. But as one who writes, therein is my dilemma — so many words to share; so little time. Where do I focus these words? So I requested spiritual counsel.
My counselor, in his cream-colored, hooded robes of a Camaldolese monk greeted me and gently grasped my hands. Again, I fell into tears and began to shake. My guess is that he expected me to seek counsel for some horrible life event or experience. When I explained the reason for my emotions and what I sought in counsel, it was as if he rejoiced in discussing the state of our world, our spirituality, creativity, and our place in the universe. His advice didn’t surprise me, but I needed to hear it from an objective and learned voice.
My 30 Mindful Days project was finally wrapped and handed to me as a most priceless gift.
And with that, I shall take on 2016 and speak truth to power and better understand my life’s mission.
Additional information about the New Camaldoli Hermitage retreats is available at www.contemplation.com, or by calling (831) 667-2456.
Charmaine Coimbra is a Cambria resident.