For many years I have periodically traveled to a Cistercian Trappist monastery for weekend retreats. When I lived in KY and TN I went to Gethsemani, best known as the former residence of Fr. Louis, i.e. Thomas Merton. Since moving to GA, I have now twice attended a similar retreat weekend at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, GA, which is actually a daughter house of Gethsemani.
These are silent retreats. Conversation is not exactly prohibited, but discouraged. Meals are eaten in silence (typically recorded music of Gregorian chant is played over speakers in the dining room). Those wishing to converse are directed to specific areas outside designated for that purpose. Retreatants are invited to join the monks at the Liturgy of the Hours beginning with Vigils at about 0400 and ending with Compline around 1930. At Gethsemani there are about 2500 acres of woods and fields, most of which are available to retreatants, laced with old logging roads and meandering trails. (Once I took a wrong turn in the woods and got very lost, very thirsty and very wet in a rainstorm before finally getting a ride back to the monastery).
In between those activities retreatants are free to pray, walk the grounds, and read, with daily and Sunday mass attendance suggested. The food is basic as are the accommodations.
Why do I go? Well, silence is a powerful tonic for the overloaded brain. Heck, even Jesus needed it (Mt 14:23). Silence is God’s first language. Silence is the space into which God can speak. Silence enables our faculties of contemplation and encourages a peaceful attitude toward life. I have spent weekends on retreat with only ordinary perceptions, and during other weekends have experienced profound and startling insights. One gains a brief glimpse into the monastic rhythm of waking, praying, working, and sleeping, over and over, in the context of a small community of men pledged to spend the rest of their lives in this one place. I am powerfully drawn to this experience, as are many others-weekend retreats are typically full of people like myself.
There is a lack in modern life, some essence that is drowned out by our constant busyness, electronic distractions, and fear of isolation. I am convinced there is real goodness in that essence. Going on retreat re-kindles the spark of the inner light that illuminates it. We ignore it at our peril.