Sunday, June 24, 2007

On fragmentation, silence, food and rain

I arrived home from my week's stay at Buckfast Abbey yesterday afternoon. I haven't looked at the newspapers or television yet but I have had a quick look around my favourite blogs to be reassured that nothing has changed. I'm reassured.

Just before I went away, I decided to defrag my PC because it was running slow. I tend to be a bit lazy about keeping my files tidy and only get around to it when the trusty old PC is obviously struggling with my mess. I actually enjoy watching the defrag programme run, so I don't know why I don't use it more often; I love the clear picture of what the disk looks like now and what it is likely to look like after defragmentation. I had this image of neat blocks of colour, with some irregular spaces and isolated lines in my mind as I set out for Buckfast and I thought 'defragmentation' would be a much better word than 'retrreat' to describe what I was hoping to get from my week of silent reflection. 'Retreat' suggests running away from something whereas the experience is far different: it's a getting away from the usual environment, cares, duties and interests in order to see them more clearly, to put some things in order, to rest and to come back home refreshed and in better running order.

Making a retreat is not the same as going on holiday; it is not for the faint-hearted and, in my view, not for the religious i.e. those who value dogma and doctrine more than faith and spirituality. Key features of the kind of retreat that I choose are silence, lots of stodgy food and stout walking shoes. Spending seven days in total silence, with no books or music is challenging and, at times, it can be very uncomfortable but it is the best environment for serious thought. (I would recommend a weekend rather than a week, for beginners.) For some reason, everyone gets extremely hungry on retreat and the monks provide lots of hearty, comforting meals; the long walks are necessary to counteract the calories as well as for contemplation. Unfortunately we had torrential rain throughout the week and walking was limited to short spurts between downpours.

So, I'm back, feeling fitter internally but in need of a few brisk walks to shed the pounds I put on with those pastries and potatoes. If the idea of defragmenting your life, of all that silence and solitude fail to attract you, maybe some pictures of the venue will:

Accommodation is in the rebuilt mediaeval almshouse. This shows the entrance to my room, one of four opening onto the garden.

The leat from the mill runs through the garden. The sight and sound of the water was a constant delight.

This chap flew in every morning to share the garden for a while.

This is the mill wheel, higher up in the monastery grounds.

The Abbey church. About 15 years ago, I climbed to the top of the tower and onto the roof, to look out over Dartmoor. It was amazing but I don't think I could make it up there now.


  1. Welcome back and congratulations on the defragmenting.

    I'm glad someone found the last week of blogging to be reassuring, although you must be an awful pessimist.

  2. I think I spoke too soon about the blogs! My first impression was that all the same old arguments were being rolled out and I hadn't missed much. Now I see that argument had turned to quarrelling - not good. I do hope everyone makes up soon. How are we ever to learn about and from each others views unless we express them?

    I came across this view of peacemaking recently which pretty much reflects my own:
    "The peacemakers are the ones who are not so convinced of their own truth that they are unable to see the truth of another. They do not have to make the other wrong in order to believe they are right. The peacemakers are willing to entertain the idea that the truth might be bigger than their own particular piece of it." (Kathleen O'Connell Chesto)

    Long live communication!

  3. monix, do you mean that you literally spoke not at all, neither did you attend lectures, nor read, nor have radio, nor TV, nor other diversion from your own thoughts for one whole week? What an idea! Did you go with a particular subject that you wanted to think through and set straight in your mind, or did you let your thoughts take wing on their own?

    Before my memory flew away, I used to have various "problems" that I worked on when I was at the dentist or similar places like faculty receptions. Can't do it anymore because my ingenious solutions are gone if I don't get them on paper almost simultaneously to their occurrence.

    BTW - I learned a new word, leat. Thanks so much.

  4. Well, erp, I had 30 minute's each day with my retreat director to talk over how things were going and perhaps get some advice. It was an Ignatian individually guided retreat, so I did have Scripture to read and ponder on. As I said in my post, though, retreats are good for people of all faiths and none, so I didn't want to emphasise my particular experience. I'm happy to discuss it with anyone who really wants to know.

  5. I wish I had previewed that last comment! Please ignore the intrusive apostrophe - I can't believe I did that!

  6. That's a great metaphor for the impact of modern living on the psyche, fragmentation. We could all use a turn in the defragmentation chamber. I can deal with the non-talking part, but the non-blogging might cause some withdrawal symptoms.

  7. I try to get away for a quiet time every year. I didn't manage to last year because of my daughter's wedding, so I had two years' mental and emotional clutter to sort out. Everyone deserves a time to get things into proportion - I'm sure it would cut down on medical bills and maybe even wars!


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