January 13, 2016 Blog No Comments


It’s been something I’ve wanted to do for years. I finally made it happen last week. I went on a silent retreat for three days. I wanted to have the experience of total silence: no family or friends, agenda, structure, electronics, or distractions, just full immersion into a space we seldom encounter. With many options, the Abbey of Gethsemani was the most compelling because of its focus on silence and contemplation.

Gethsemani is nestled amidst thousands of acres of beautiful rolling fields and knobs in central Kentucky. The Benedictine monks, most of whom have been there for decades, take a vow of silence, service, simplicity and contemplation. They run a farm and a dairy, producing and selling wonderful fudge and fruitcake. Their life is ritualized around 7 worship services a day, their work at the Abbey and hospitality to their guests who come as I did, seeking a step out of the regular world.  In fact, it has been the hermitage for many people, the most well-known being contemplative author Thomas Merton, who lived and wrote there most of his life.

The three days went by too quickly. I’ve been craving the time for reflection, time to read, meditate, write and hike in the woods. I received that and more. I learned from nature as I hiked, I learned from the Monks as I watched them and I learned from my own silence. Allow me to share what this experience revealed.


It was fairly warm for January, but overcast and drizzly. I literally had the woods to myself as I hiked for hours on two of the days.  What bliss. Here is what I noticed:

  • Sounds – when your footsteps are the loudest noise around you, you slow down and pay attention. The rustling sound of wind in trees, with just a few leaves, makes a beautiful low toned music. A small brook and rile, carved by water run offs, bubbles with a higher pitched sweet tone. Both said, slow downget into the flow of your lifeand let it move through you. There is no need for struggle. The classical music played at each meal gave the same message. Relax, enjoy, savor the experience.
  • Subtle Colors – The woods were in their winter tones of browns, grays and blacks. My, I never noticed the range of those colors being so beautiful. Every now and then there was a verdant patch of green moss, the rich color and texture from the rain, creating striking contrast. The Abbey echoes those tones, even with stained glass windows in every shade of gray with a touch of blue and yellow. Subtle and so evocative.  Subtlety speaks softly with profound impact.
  • What’s Been Returned To Nature Is More Beautiful – For every bench, stone building, or man-made structure placed on the property, the older it is, the more nature has had time to reclaimed it. The wooden bench covered in lichen, moss, and acorns, the stone building with ivy, the overgrown paths all had that classy, elegantly messy look. We try too hard to sanitize things. Let nature have more of its way.


One of the Monks welcomed the guests with an opening orientation. It was a beautiful talk that extoled the lessons that come from being a Monk. Just watching them go about their work and worship told the rest of the story. They live and experience life differently – there’s things we can learn.

  • Tenderness – In a culture that glorifies being tough, firm and strong, tenderness is the sign of true power. It indicates tremendous self-control and wisdom; the qualities we’d like to see in a leader.  A tender person understands that we are all fragile. All this was said in our orientation, with humor, though none the less profound. The Monks’ mirror this message, displaying soft kindness in a starched environment. Tenderness reveals strength through sensitivity.
  • Clear Intention – The call to monastic life is a profound decision; the ultimate example of heeding your heart’s true nature. It’s not an easy life; the monks continually work hard and worship 7 times a day every day. The clarity of this intention, that requires such discipline, is humbling. What became apparent is:  Clarity of intention eliminates all doubt and confusion.
  • Simplicity – One of the hallmarks of this order is their vow of simplicity. There is no ornamentation, no signs of grandeur, yet it is clear that their life is abundant. In their silence and simplicity, they have something most of us seek. They are fully present. Their eyes gaze into yours without pretense, they are open to everyone and everything without judgement. Simplicity invites genuine presence.


 I went with the expectation to expand my vision of my work and purpose. I realized the experience was really about deepening and moving to higher consciousness. Here’s some of what came to me.

  • Inner Peace – Our thoughts determine how we feel, how we react and what we do. Then there is a place beyond that’s about being present.  When our thoughts are worrying about the future or gnashing over the past, there’s inherent tension. By being silent and unplugged, I was better able to be fully present. There was inner peace. I experienced serenity. Where we put our attention becomes our realityBeing quiet and wholly present allows space for inner peace.
  • Higher-Self –We all have internal guidance from our mind, body and spirit/soul. The latter can also be referred to as our higher-self. On this retreat I was better attuned to communicate with my higher self. I received profound insight. Our higher-self knows what’s best, and knows the truth. It’s our direct link to our source energy or God. Connecting with our higher-self provides a light on our path.
  • Inspiration – When the mind quiets and you lean into your own stillness, you can have inspired thoughts and revelations and that don’t normally surface in the bustle of daily life. What joy to discover this untapped resource waiting to be heard. We all have it. The messages of our heart and soul crave to be received and taken seriously. No matter our path – Silence gives wings to our inspiration.

 If you have a chance to spend a few days in silence, I recommend it. It was an affirming experience to connect with myself in a meaningful way. I am more energized and committed than ever to do the work I’m doing.

My next workshop, starting January 26th, entitled Spread Your Wings, Let Your Dreams Take Flight in 2016, will be a wonderful opportunity to explore some of these concepts. See my posts and let me know if you are interested by messaging me here or my email connie@conniemilligan.com . I’d love to share this fantastic information with you!

Written by Connie Milligan, LCSW
If there is anything I’ve expressed that speaks to you, I’d love to hear from you. You can reach me at my email, connie [at] conniemilligan [dot] com