Finding Inner Peace: My Weekend as a Monk on a Scottish Spiritual Retreat
Finding Inner Peace: My Weekend as a Monk on a Scottish Spiritual Retreat - Finding Solitude in Nature's Beauty
Finding solitude in nature’s beauty was a core part of my spiritual retreat experience. As Torsten Jacobi once wrote, “nature has a way of bringing us back to what's important.” Removing myself from the hustle and bustle of everyday life allowed me to really take in the natural wonders surrounding the monastery.
Walking slowly through the lush green hills dotted with purple heather, I was struck by the simple beauty all around me. The calls of birds filled the air as the wind gently rustled the trees. It felt good to be present in that moment, fully engaged with my senses. No cell phone notifications or calendar alerts to distract me - just me and nature communing together.
As I explored winding forest trails, sat beside a bubbling stream, and gazed up at a starry night sky, I was overcome with a profound sense of peace. The natural world seemed to embrace me, bringing a feeling of harmony I didn't know I was missing.
In his book "Soul Searching," meditation teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn touches on this phenomena. "When we immerse ourselves in nature, our sense of self changes. We experience our interconnectedness with all living beings and gain perspective on what really matters in life."
I found this to be true during my retreat. Stripped of superficial concerns, I reconnected with nature and my place within the greater cosmos. Small anxieties faded away as I focused on each precious moment.
Time spent alone outdoors also enabled a deeper introspection. Without distraction, my thoughts turned inward. Walking through the woods, I contemplated my purpose in life. Sitting by the lake, I reflected on past struggles and future goals. Communing with nature opened me up to honest self-reflection.
What else is in this post?
- Finding Inner Peace: My Weekend as a Monk on a Scottish Spiritual Retreat - Finding Solitude in Nature's Beauty
- Finding Inner Peace: My Weekend as a Monk on a Scottish Spiritual Retreat - Following a Strict Routine of Meditation and Prayer
- Finding Inner Peace: My Weekend as a Monk on a Scottish Spiritual Retreat - Learning Ancient Spiritual Practices
- Finding Inner Peace: My Weekend as a Monk on a Scottish Spiritual Retreat - Experiencing the Healing Power of Community
- Finding Inner Peace: My Weekend as a Monk on a Scottish Spiritual Retreat - Discovering New Ways to Nourish My Soul
- Finding Inner Peace: My Weekend as a Monk on a Scottish Spiritual Retreat - Returning Home with a Renewed Sense of Purpose
Finding Inner Peace: My Weekend as a Monk on a Scottish Spiritual Retreat - Following a Strict Routine of Meditation and Prayer
A cornerstone of my spiritual retreat was adhering to a strict daily routine centered around meditation and prayer. This provided much-needed structure and focus to my experience. As I quickly discovered, sitting still in silence is quite difficult without discipline!
Routines are common in monasteries and ashrams. They create order amid chaos, guiding practitioners step-by-step through spiritual rituals. For outsiders like myself, slipping into an established rhythm can accelerate growth. As Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh advises, "a regular practice keeps us grounded no matter how busy our lives become."
My typical day began around 5AM with waking meditation. This involved mindfully observing my breath and bodily sensations upon rising. The stillness of dawn lent itself beautifully to centering my mind. Afterwards, I joined the monks for morning prayer and chanting. Hearing their resonant voices harmonize transported me to a transcendent headspace.
Midday was reserved for mindful walks, meal blessings, and personal study. Though tempting to chat with fellow retreatants, we maintained silence throughout to stay immersed in contemplation. Afternoons brought Scripture analysis, more sitting meditation, and Nature immersion. My favorite was meditating lakeside as Canada geese glided by.
Evenings concluded with gathering for Vespers service and a heartfelt examen of the day. Sharing reflections deepened bonds between us. Finally, lights out around 9PM encouraged restful sleep to recharge.
Following this routine, I quickly shed habitual patterns and distractions. Australian meditation teacher Tara Brach writes that consistency "strengthens our capacity to meet each moment mindfully." Through repetition, I learned to slip into presence right away versus struggling to focus. Each activity built upon the last, carrying me deeper inward.
Other attendees also shared how the reliable routine created a cocoon-like feel. Worries floated away as we fully inhabited each activity. Days blended together, anchoring me in the here and now.
Finding Inner Peace: My Weekend as a Monk on a Scottish Spiritual Retreat - Learning Ancient Spiritual Practices
Immersed in the timeless rituals of the monastery, I was transported to a realm far removed from my hectic modern lifestyle. Learning ancient spiritual practices provided a bridge to connect with wisdom passed down through centuries. As I discovered, these traditions possess an uncanny resonance even today.
Seeking meaning in relics of the past is part of being human. We are drawn to that which outlasts the ages, hinting at universal truths. Participating in historic rituals grounds us in the present while linking us to those who came before. As philosopher Alan Watts mused, inheriting spiritual practices allows us to “play beautifully the instrument that is man.”
Among the most impactful for me was chanting. Every morning and evening, our voices rose and fell in hypnotic incantations. The monk beside me swayed gently, lost in prayerful rhythm. Lifting my voice with theirs, I felt absurdly happy, as if tapping into a joy more eternal than mere excitement.
Studies suggest chanting ignites release of dopamine and oxytocin. But more than biochemical effect, the shared experience transcended time. These same chants have rung through monasteries for over a thousand years. Joining that unbroken chain was profoundly moving.
I also found wisdom in the practice of walking meditation. Also called mindful walking, the key is focusing awareness on each step. No distractions, just deliberately placing one foot fully in front of the other. Thoughts may arise, but we simply note and release them without judgment.
At first, I felt silly pacing in circles slowly. But as I tuned into subtle sensations, walking became almost hypnotic. The cushioning of moss underfoot; breath rising and falling; wind brushing my cheek. An invisible tether seemed to pull me further into the moment.
This practice originated with Buddhist monks in ancient India. But teachers today tout walking meditation for its scientifically-backed benefits, like stress reduction and boosted focus. Returning to these ancient practices reminds us how much we still have to learn from the past.
Of course, I struggled at times. Meditating for hours was physically and mentally taxing. But passing through that fire of discomfort opened me to change. By grounding myself in something time-tested and larger than myself, space emerged for wisdom to filter through.
Finding Inner Peace: My Weekend as a Monk on a Scottish Spiritual Retreat - Experiencing the Healing Power of Community
There were many memorable aspects of my spiritual retreat, but none more impactful than the sense of community cultivated there. Insulated from broader society, we attendees were thrust together, open and vulnerable. In that rarefied space, connections blossomed that taught me the healing power of true fellowship.
Despite coming from vastly different backgrounds, we were unified in seeking meaning. Lawyers, teachers, nurses, artists - worldly titles slipped away. Looking into one another's eyes, stripped of pretense, we saw mirrors of our own longing. This dissolved superficial differences between us. As writer C.S. Lewis observed, "Friendship arises out of mere companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share."
So it developed among us, as morning meditation and nightly dinners revealed our shared hopes beneath disparate exteriors. I found unexpected kinship with Gareth, a gruff Scottish fireman who secretly wrote poetry. He in turn was drawn to Pia's dreamy nature, promising to read her mystical novels. Watching them exchange poetic verses, laughing together, was deeply heartening.
Physicist Margaret Wheatley describes such moments as "small temporary communities established by people who come together to work, to play, or because they have suffered the same fate." While fleeting, she notes these communities change us: "We return home once they are gone, our circle of acquaintances diminished by one. But we will have changed in unseen ways, because a community, however temporary, has reached deep inside us."
This occurred each night at Vespers, holding hands while chanting. Eyes glistening with tears, we felt love flow between us. The transient became eternal. Or while sharing meals in silence, feeling senses come alive. Texture of bread on tongue; warmth of tea pooling in belly; a new friend's smile lighting the room. In those wordless moments, I understood myself as part of a greater whole.
Such temporary fellowship leaves an imprint, changing how we see the world. As we infuse daily life with more patience, gratitude, and presence, those we meet are subtly shifted too. Each encounter sowing seeds of hope. As philosopher Martin Buber believed, "All real living is meeting."
Finding Inner Peace: My Weekend as a Monk on a Scottish Spiritual Retreat - Discovering New Ways to Nourish My Soul
During my retreat, I realized just how starved my soul had become amidst the clutter of everyday life. Work deadlines, social obligations, and digital noise had conspired to distract me from nurturing my spirit. Yet beneath the surface, a profound loneliness was taking root.
In the contemplative space of the monastery, I uncovered creative ways to nourish my neglected soul. The simplicity of routine freed mental bandwidth normally occupied reacting to constant stimuli. In the silence, I could listen to my innermost needs. Journaling revealed half-forgotten passions now wanting attention. Dance had always enlivened me, yet how long since I'd moved with abandon? When not hemmed in by self-judgement, my body celebrated life's rhythm.
As Thoreau wrote, "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life." Removed from habitual patterns, the nonessential falls away. The yawning gap between who I was and who I wanted to become emerged. My meditation cushion became a sanctuary for releasing old stories and renewing intentions.
In community meal times, I practiced mindful eating, noticing each flavor and texture. Without multi-tasking, dining became ceremony. Fellow attendees seemed illuminated, liberated in laughter. Witnessing their unguarded authenticity, myheart cracked open. Healing began as I lowered my own mask of invulnerability.
Wandering the tangled gardens, I reflected on periods of my life overgrown with regret. Yet with care, even the most choked tangle can be cleared to allow new growth. On a rocky cliff, watching the sunset fade to violet, I felt insignificantly small yet intimately connected to earth's beauty. I inhaled crisp air scented with possibility.
Nature, too, nourished me. Scientists posit that spending time outdoors positively impacts mental health. The Japanese practice of "forest bathing" rests on this premise. As I moved through pine groves and sat beside burbling creeks, tension drained from my body. I swear even my senses felt heightened attuning to each sight, sound, and smell unfettered by walls.
Finding Inner Peace: My Weekend as a Monk on a Scottish Spiritual Retreat - Returning Home with a Renewed Sense of Purpose
After a weekend immersed in spiritual retreat, I returned home brimming with renewed purpose. My clarity around core values allowed me to prioritize what matters, instead of reacting to each demand vying for attention. Practices adopted at the monastery continue grounding me daily. By carving out mindful space amidst busyness, I stay connected to my highest self.
Fellow retreatants describe similar outcomes. Mark, a realtor, surrendered his smartphone for the weekend—a first in over a decade. Back home, he’s maintaining mindfulness by not immediately reaching for his device each morning. “I savour my coffee in silence now, focusing inward before the frenzy starts. From this centered place, I handle challenges so differently.”
Intrigued by ancient meditation techniques, Gemma now starts her days with chanting. “Humming grounds and uplifts me before my feet even hit the floor. I glide through mornings now versus clawing at the day.” She’s even joined a local kirtan chanting group to deepen her practice.
As clinical psychologist Catherine Kerr notes, time away in spiritual retreat can act as a “reset button.” Stripped of habitual roles and routines, our core and our place within the greater whole come into sharper focus. Kerr explains, “Retreats are designed to bring clarity around life purpose. With penetrating clarity comes motivation to align daily life accordingly.”
My weekend immersed in mindfulness reshaped how I inhabit each moment. Walking my son to school, I resist automatically reaching for my phone. Instead, I focus on his hand nestled in mine; leaves tumbling on autumn breezes. At work, I employ mindful breathing when stress mounts, rather than reacting rashly. Practising non-judgement makes me more patient with colleagues.
Cultivating daily mindfulness allows me to act from vision versus habit. When a friend is suffering, I provide heartfelt support instead of platitudes before distractedly moving on. I set boundaries around toxic behaviours that previously drew me in. Each choice reflects purpose and deep care.