I was walking on a sidewalk at night and saw a cute skunk up ahead. It moved around a little, but did not get off the sidewalk. My common sense kicked in instinctively, and I stopped in my tracks. I marveled at how this cuddly, furry little creature commanded such respect. Even top predators know what a force the skunk is, and avoid it if they have any sense. Skunks know how to set boundaries. It occurred to me that I too was making space for myself and setting boundaries at that time, because I was on a silent retreat at a monastery.
I go to a monastery twice a year to partake in a self-imposed time of silence—usually a few days. There are monasteries of different religions, and most are gorgeous, out-of-the-way places where generations of practicing monastics have been praying, meditating and living for over a century. I most frequently go to the Benedictine Sisters Retreat at Sacred Heart Monastery in Alabama, but I’ve been to Magnolia Grove in Mississippi, a Buddhist monastery under the auspices of the Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, to Yogaville, Virginia, an ashram started by Swami Satchidananda, and Thomas Merton’s Gesthemane, a Trappist Monk Abbey in Kentucky. When I’m home I get asked by curious friends, “What do you do there?” The answer is, “Nothing.”