Finding Inner Peace: My Transformational Weekend as a Monk in Scotland

Post originally Published January 3, 2024 || Last Updated January 3, 2024

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Finding Inner Peace: My Transformational Weekend as a Monk in Scotland - Embracing Simplicity

In our modern world, life often feels overwhelmingly complex. We're constantly bombarded with stimuli from our devices, social media, and the 24/7 news cycle. Simplicity can seem like an impossible dream. However, by intentionally embracing simplicity, even for a short time, we can find clarity, peace, and new perspective.

For many, a monastery provides the perfect place to escape complexity and practice simplicity. Monastic life is designed to strip away distractions so one can focus solely on spiritual growth. When I arrived at the monastery in rural Scotland, I immediately noticed the simplicity. The grounds were quiet and tranquil. My small room contained only a bed, desk, and chair. We disconnected from technology and woke up before dawn for meditation. It was jarring at first, but incredibly powerful. I quickly realized how much noise dominates daily life. Without the constant buzz, it was easier to focus inward.

Meals were simple but nourishing. We ate mindfully, without speaking. The food filled my belly but didn't overwhelm my senses. Washing dishes became a meditation on gratitude and service. Each small task was an opportunity to practice mindfulness. Life moved at an unhurried pace, in harmony with nature's rhythms.

The monks taught me that outward simplicity creates inner peace. By decluttering physical space, the mind becomes less cluttered. Letting go of technology and entertainment leaves space for reflection. Simplicity even transformed chores into spiritual practices. I began to understand why monastics treasure simplicity. It removes what is unnecessary so you can focus on what really matters.
The philosopher Henry David Thoreau wrote, "Our life is frittered away by detail...Simplify, simplify." Many tourists visit the monastery expecting enlightenment. But the monks know it comes through simplicity, not seeking. Without the distractions of modern life, I could finally hear my own voice and connect to my purpose. The power of simplicity is profound.
Of course, most of us cannot become monks. But we can all aim to simplify. Evaluate activities and belongings that don't align with your values. Let go of what drains you. Make space for what enriches you. Turn off notifications and carve out tech-free time. Savor simple pleasures like long walks, good books, and home-cooked meals.

What else is in this post?

  1. Finding Inner Peace: My Transformational Weekend as a Monk in Scotland - Embracing Simplicity
  2. Finding Inner Peace: My Transformational Weekend as a Monk in Scotland - Connecting with Nature
  3. Finding Inner Peace: My Transformational Weekend as a Monk in Scotland - Practicing Mindfulness
  4. Finding Inner Peace: My Transformational Weekend as a Monk in Scotland - Learning to Appreciate Silence
  5. Finding Inner Peace: My Transformational Weekend as a Monk in Scotland - Letting Go of Technology
  6. Finding Inner Peace: My Transformational Weekend as a Monk in Scotland - Finding Balance Through Routine

Finding Inner Peace: My Transformational Weekend as a Monk in Scotland - Connecting with Nature

In our modern world, nature is often treated as a commodity to be exploited or an inconvenience to be avoided. Yet exposure to the natural world is profoundly good for our physical, mental, and spiritual health. By intentionally connecting with nature, we can reduce stress, boost creativity, and gain much-needed perspective.

For many overscheduled urbanites, time in nature provides a sacred refuge from the frenetic pace of daily life. In Japan, ‘forest bathing’ or shinrin-yoku has become a preventative medicine against disease and burnout. Studies show that spending time among trees can lower cortisol levels, blood pressure, and heart rate. Even looking at nature photos or listening to natural soundscapes elicits relaxation.

Beyond just destressing, time in nature also profoundly shifts one’s outlook. The vastness of the ocean, the intricacy of a single leaf - nature reminds us of our place within the greater whole. Each element is interconnected in a delicate balance. Seeing this firsthand fosters awe, appreciation, and care for our shared world. It’s no wonder environmentalist John Muir found solace and revelation while hiking for weeks in Yosemite.

For me, sitting still beside a murmuring stream allowed my racing thoughts to settle into tranquil observation. As I journaled surrounded by wildflowers, my creative spirit felt rejuvenated. During long walks through the sleepy forest, the space and silence brought newfound clarity.

Yet in our concrete jungles, such experiences require intention. We must actively seek out opportunities to fully immerse ourselves in the natural world. This could mean pitching a tent beneath the stars, finding a secluded spot to watch the sunrise, or simply going barefoot in the grass.

Though a weekend retreat provides needed respite, cultivating daily micro-doses of nature may prove most powerful over time. Pausing to notice a bird singing or feeling the wind on your face keeps us connected when we need it most. By repeatedly returning to our senses, we learn to tune out frenetic mental chatter and trust the steady wisdom that nature provides. We recognize our small but integral place within the planet’s tapestry.

Finding Inner Peace: My Transformational Weekend as a Monk in Scotland - Practicing Mindfulness

In the monastery's garden, I joined the monks for walking meditation. We moved slowly, with intention, focusing on each footstep and breath. For most of my life, walking had been a means to an end - something to check off my to-do list. But the monks understood it as a spiritual practice in itself. By cultivating mindfulness through walking, they transformed a mundane task into something sacred.

Mindfulness simply means paying attention, on purpose and without judgment, to the present moment. It involves gently returning your focus whenever it wanders. Thoughts will inevitably arise, but you acknowledge them briefly and return to the breath. Mindfulness is the opposite of rumination and helps stop depressive spirals before they start.
At first, I found it incredibly difficult. My mind raced with endless thoughts and plans. But the monks assured me this reaction is normal. With practice, the restless inner chatter begins to quiet. One begins to experience each moment fully, without getting preoccupied by what just happened or what will come next.

Studies show that regular mindfulness practice physically changes the brain, increasing density in regions associated with attention, sensory processing, and emotional regulation. Over time, practitioners report higher life satisfaction, lower stress, and greater resiliency.
Mindfulness is not limited to formal meditation. We can cultivate it during any routine activity by tuning into our senses. While washing dishes, notice the warmth of the water and the smoothness of the plates. Make your bed with full awareness of your body's movements. Taste each bite of your meal consciously.

When interacting with others, listen attentively without anticipating your response. Practice accepting imperfections - in yourself, in others, in life. Let go of judgments by seeing things simply as they are.

Even in nature, mindfulness means observing without labeling or conceptualizing. Don't just see a tree - feel the rough bark beneath your fingers, smell its woody scent, hear the breeze rustling its leaves. By immersing yourself in raw sensory experiences, you'll feel more connected to the natural world.
With mindfulness, activities once seen as mundane are transformed into opportunities for presence. Time seems to slow down, allowing you to find magic in the ordinary. You realize that each moment, no matter how simple, is precious. Life becomes less about chasing accomplishments and more about appreciating the process.
The most profound insights arose not in formal meditation but in simple moments - handing a monk a spade in the garden, watching candlelight flicker during dinner, lying still atop rumpled sheets hearing dawn birdsong.

Finding Inner Peace: My Transformational Weekend as a Monk in Scotland - Learning to Appreciate Silence

In our noisy world, silence has become a precious commodity. Yet learning to appreciate silence is a vital skill that offers immense rewards. Silence restores our frazzled nervous systems, enabling greater focus and insight. It allows the mind to calm, providing clarity amid chaos.

Many now recognize the dangers of information overload and excessive stimuli. Constant noise pollution, both auditory and visual, has been linked to increased stress, anxiety, depression, and fatigue. When we’re endlessly stimulated, constantly reacting without pause, it’s easy for burnout to set in. We lose touch with our inner wisdom.
Periodic silence counteracts the barrage of sensory input. Amid stillness, our brimming mental cups can finally empty. In silence, we stop reacting and receive insight. This explains why wisdom traditions have long valued silence. Jesus, Buddha, Lao Tzu – the mystics each climbed mountains or wandered deserts to disconnect and listen.

Silence also fosters greater sensory awareness. When we mute the racket, subtler sensations become clearer. The taste of tea, crickets humming, an itch on your leg – you start noticing life’s background music. Freed from distractions, you engage the world more attentively. You see beauty in small details that once would have been drowned out. Moments take on new depth and color.

Of course, tuning out the noise, both literal and metaphorical, can be uncomfortable at first. We have a tendency to seek distraction and fill space. Sitting in silence may feel boring, even anxiety producing. Negative thought patterns can arise. With practice, you’ll learn to observe thoughts without getting attached, returning gently to the present.

Start with short periods of silence, maybe just 5 or 10 minutes daily. Gradually increase as it starts to feel more natural. Try removing auditory distractions first, turning off screens and devices. Then carve out some stillness in nature, leaving your phone behind. Work up to half-day retreats at silent meditation centers.
Many find that impressions and creative ideas seem to surface effortlessly amid silence, as if whispered from the subconscious. Silence breeds freer thought. Unburdened by constant chatter and interruptions, the well of inspiration has space to bubble up.

Finding Inner Peace: My Transformational Weekend as a Monk in Scotland - Letting Go of Technology

In the always-connected digital era, we’ve forgotten what life is like without technology. Yet periodically unplugging provides much-needed perspective and myriad benefits for body, mind and soul. By temporarily letting go of devices, screens and constant connectivity, we can reduce stress, improve focus, connect more meaningfully with others and engage in real life versus through the filter of social media.
Of course, completely eliminating technology is unrealistic and unnecessary. The goal is balance and intentionality regarding tech use. Periodic “digital detoxes” allow us to remember that, while tools like smartphones and laptops provide convenience, overuse comes at a high cost.

Studies reveal that excessive screen time reduces gray matter in the brain, weakens social skills in young people, disrupts sleep and contributes to anxiety and depression. The nonstop notifications and alerts keep our fight-or-flight systems permanently activated, leading to burnout. The comparison culture of social media makes many feel inadequate.

Setting aside devices forces us to confront the uncomfortable feeling of boredom – and discover creative ways to overcome it. Freed from tech-enabled distraction and dopamine hits, we must look inward for entertainment and direction. Activities like cooking, exercising, playing instruments and reading become attractive again. Conversations take on new depth when you make real eye contact versus periodically checking your phone.

Start by designating tech-free blocks of time, such as a “No Phone Hour” after dinner. Power down for a weekend or take a weeklong “Digital Detox Vacation” where phones are silenced and laptops left at home.

If FOMO (fear of missing out) kicks in, remember that endless scrolling through others’ curated content is an empty distraction, not genuine connection. Reflect on how technology sucks away time that could be spent more meaningfully.
Consider apps like Flipd and Freedom that temporarily block you from accessing distracting websites and apps during chosen time periods. Remove social media and email from your phone to only check them on your computer. Disable distracting notifications so you choose when to tune in versus constantly being interrupted.
By noticing when, why and how you reach for your device, you gain self-awareness. Is it boredom, avoidance or genuine need? What parts of tech use serve your values versus just being mindless entertainment?

Finding Inner Peace: My Transformational Weekend as a Monk in Scotland - Finding Balance Through Routine

In our chaotic modern lives, establishing simple routines can provide much-needed structure, balance and mental calm. By routinizing key tasks and behaviors, we conserve mental energy and reduce decision fatigue. Life feels more ordered and manageable. This explains why rituals and routines are central to many wisdom traditions and communities, from Buddhist monks to Amish families.

Travel writer Pico Iyer gave an insightful TED talk on the value of routine, even in transient, rootless environments like airport lounges. He describes how routines provide “a structure that frees you up.” By planning certain activities to happen automatically, you liberate mental space for more presence, creativity and connection.

This was evident during my stay at the Scottish monastery. The monks relied on routines for spiritual focus amid earthly chaos. The comforting rhythms enabled inner stillness, from the pre-dawn meditation to the simple nightly examen of conscience. Daily rituals removed the need for constant planning and distraction.
Secular routines can provide similar benefits. Consider starting your day the same way, following a steady morning ritual to ground yourself. Build in habits that recharge you, like a ten-minute mid-day meditation or afternoon nature walk. Disconnect from devices at night and power down at a set time.

Even just consistently exercising three times per week, cooking meals or calling a friend on certain days fosters stability. On weekends, designate household tasks to certain days so they don’t eat up precious free time. Meal plan for the week ahead. By scheduling activities and obligations, you squeeze more enjoyment from limited hours.
Of course, rigidity defeats the purpose - allow flexibility for spontaneity and rest. Routines should serve your human needs, not become additional obligations. Reevaluate periodically to ensure they align with current priorities.
Build routines slowly and stick with them for thirty days to cement new neural pathways. Avoid biting off too much. Use phone alarms or calendar reminders so new patterns become automatic over time.
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