We want silence even if we don’t always know what to do with it

Tuesday, 18 December, 2012

While increasing numbers of people are signing up for silent retreats, undertakings that require them not to talk, or socialise whatsoever, for periods of one to seven days at a time, some participants at a Franciscan monastery in Northeast Washington, are finding the experience a little too overwhelming.

If you can’t talk to, or see, anyone else, what are you supposed to do (radio, TV, and internet are off limits by the way) for the duration of your retreat?

But it turns out solitude isn’t that simple. Although participation in silent retreats is on the rise, many of those preparing to spend time at the hermitage said they were so unaccustomed to unstructured time alone that they made to-do lists – then feared they were doing “solitude” wrong and scrapped them. They agonized over what to bring and wear and eat, as if they were traveling to an exotic land.

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