MONTE OLIVETO 2016
Sitting in my lush green and slightly haphazard garden, listening to the birds on a midwinter’s “summer” afternoon in Brisbane (29 degrees!), it’s not hard to transport myself back 4 weeks to Monte Oliveto, Italy.
I was privileged this year to be able to spend a week in that beautiful little corner of Tuscany. For me, the very first joy of the place is the environment. The “Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore" sits high in the Tuscan hills and is a beautiful green oasis surrounded by woods and farmlands. The last ten minutes of the journey is a walk down the pathway to the abbey, which is inaccessible by bus – our luggage was ferried down in cars! The feeling of remoteness (without really being too remote at all) and beauty of place was important to the impact of the week’s retreat. I was taking part in my first WCCM Monte Oliveto retreat; I say first in the hope that it will not be my last!
While place was one of the joys, another was the sense of community. Although Monte Oliveto is a mostly silent retreat, because it brings together people from all over the world (Australia, S E Asia, North & South America and many European countries), conversation is allowed over dinner (and red wine). Some retreatants were invited to share their meditation journey with the whole group – a most enjoyable, entertaining and informative part of our shared dinners. The daily Eucharist also enhanced the sense of community with a welcome informality and sharing (holy conversations).
It was a privilege to have Fr Laurence Freeman guiding our retreat. He spoke on CHANGE – the inevitability of change in our world, how we can embrace and handle change and the contemplative journey of change and transformation in our own lives.
Giovanni’s daily “yoga” sessions were a delightful part of the daily routine. Forget impossible poses! Giovanni gently and with great humour, led us through physical explorations aimed at us being able to sense our own body’s natural abilities.
There was plenty of free time within the routines to walk - on the property and to the neighbouring village - to rest, relax and reflect. But, of course, central to a Christian meditation community retreat is always the space for personal journeying provided by meditation and silence. I felt that the routines of the retreat acted like the mantra – providing the structure which leads into the space for a deeper experience. And, as with every meditation, it is not really possible to analyse the inner impact of the Monte Oliveto retreat (although outwardly I can report that I was super calm and relaxed about my travels following the retreat – not something I could usually say), but to trust that the inner work done was another small step on my transformative journey. And, as I referred to earlier, I would be extremely glad if my first Monte Oliveto retreat were not my last!
Meditation was the glue that kept me together.
Being taken over by circumstances to have chemotherapy or you will die. What! we are going to die anyway. The thoughts of despair and unknowing. What will the first treatment be like, after it waiting for side effects. The only time of peace was when I was meditating.
Admittingly lost some rhythm. Meditating in the morning in the car while driving to treatment then at night too tired but through the night cannot sleep due to medications side effects so saying
Maranatha, Maranatha. Thoughts go away keep returning to the word.
Lee Milroy 2015
Meditation and Wellness
The practice of meditation in the circumstances- chemically induced pain- gives one a focus. By that I mean that the mantra is all you come to believe in ... it is all you have to hold onto- your body doesn't allow a feeling of well-being, but the mantra draws you through the pain. [at whatever level that pain might be]
The only reality becomes the mantra through this journey into the darkness of fear. It creates a degree of acceptance about the unknown- a faith – that makes you cling to the mantra and not look for anything beyond it. It becomes sufficient in itself. One is not thinking of pain or its avoidance – one is not thinking! One is saying the mantra.
Perhaps because it overcame fear and pain the word itself becomes your centre. I love the way John Main speaks it- tenderly, affectionately, intimately- it is more intimate than the pain. It is closer to you than the pain or the fear. It displaces the fear.
Over time- it is a call to return to the journey through personal darkness, to journey further into the darkness but, in a space where one is accompanied. I am not referring to consolation- between meditations the inevitable is still there, but within the meditation the inevitable, the fear of the inevitable and the pain that is leading toward that inevitability is replaced by the power of the mantra itself. It is what you believe in more strongly than fear or pain.