Holy Silence Holy Silence
Breathe In

Holy Silence

A Benedictine Retreat
Aleksandra Kozłowska
time 14 minutes

A long, long time ago, snow would fall one day, covering the world with a fluffy eiderdown, and it would go silent. In the Anthropocene, such luxury is just a matter of dreams. That’s why we sent our reporter in search of silence.

Beyond Łódź, the forest seems to be getting denser. Pines and birches flickering outside the window give licence to break away from my co-passengers’ blabbing. It was high time to go away in search of silence and distance: tension in my relationship, tension in the country, tension all over our planet. So I look for salvation where silence is one of the basic rules of life – in the Camaldolese nunnery in Złoczew.

Benedictine hospitality

I reach Sieradz in the afternoon, from where I’m supposed to take a coach. I stop a woman in front of the railway station and ask her about the coach stop. Before she manages to give me an answer, some other woman stops by us. “Are you going to Złoczew? I’ll give you a lift,” she offers, and gives me a wide smile.

A moment later I’m in Renata’s car (that’s what my dea ex machina is called), listening to her telling me about her job (she is a nurse), her family (she was born and still lives in Złoczew), her children (her daughter studied in Kraków). Renata giggles and tells me her – indeed quite comical – surname. She is moved when I tell her that I am going to the Camaldolese nuns. Her father used to help the nuns with the work in the fields; with cows and chickens. And she was friends with one of the nuns, deceased by now. She understands my need to get away from the chaos of the world. She can’t afford a few-days in the convent, but whenever she needs to be on her own, she goes to the woods. That also gives her an opportunity to pick some bilberries.

We stop in front of the convent or, to be precise, in front of the Saint Romuald Hermitage. This is a guesthouse for visiting outsiders. “In the spirit of Benedictine hospitality recommended to us by our rule,


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The Illusion of Retreats
Adam Aduszkiewicz

Whenever we feel tired of life and afraid of the world around us, we look for a retreat. Dreams of distant, magical places, of wonderful moments in which you can forget ‘everything’ and ‘find yourself’ lead to dangerous areas of the mind.

In psychology, a special state of mind is known where the patient shuts themselves in a mental bubble; here, although they are suffering, they feel safer than in the world outside. “I have come to refer to [these states],” writes John Steiner in his book on this subject, “as psychic retreats, refuges, shelters, sanctuaries or havens.” A retreat arises as a reaction to fear. “It is possible to observe patients in a ‘delusional mood’, in which extreme anxiety is accompanied by depersonalization and feelings of ill-defined dread, who may actually appear relieved as the defuse dread gives way to fixed systematized delusion.” As if only in imaginary worlds is it possible to find security and liberation from fear and pain. “The retreat then serves as an area of the mind where reality does not have to be faced, where phantasy and omnipotence can exist unchecked and where anything is permitted.” This is the feature that often makes the retreat so appealing to the patient and usually involves the use of perverse and psychotic mechanisms. Retreat is not just an issue for patients in psychiatric hospitals or those undergoing psychotherapy. Whenever we feel tired of life and afraid of the world around us, we look for a retreat. Dreams of distant, magical places, of wonderful moments in which you can forget ‘everything’ and ‘find yourself’ lead dangerously close to the borders of a retreat. The border that separates delusion from reality is deceptively subtle.

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