I’m not talking about soldiers tactically withdrawing from a conflict to cut losses but about time spent away from one’s normal life and work to think about life and how we should live it. I’ve just returned from an 8-day retreat with the Jesuits of Bangalore (here) and as expected, have come back recharged both mentally and spiritually to face the challenges of the new term and project(s) that we’re starting over here. The retreat was Ignatian in style which meant near-complete silence for the most part, daily mass and short sessions with a spiritual director.
Silence does many things to a person. We spend so much time talking and listening to others talk that we often don’t listen to the inner workings of both our mind and spirit. I was a little apprehensive about this before the retreat started as I never went that long without talking before and wondered how I’d spend the time without communicating very much. Those worries were quite unfounded as I slowly realised what the silence was all about and how that helped with the whole process.
When one is silent and free from the usual distractions that we surround ourselves with, a whole new world is opened. One sees flowers that one usually passes by while talking to another. One feels the faintest changes in wind direction and temperature that would usually go unnoticed because one’s head is buried in a book or computer monitor. One has the space to think, reflect and pray in a way that seems more true to oneself. Though this might seem a tad over-dramatised, the fruits of the silence does pay dividends.
While I was away on retreat, a series of 8 bombs went off all over Bangalore, injuring many and killing two in the process. Police are not sure about who’s responsible and why the bombs went off but they seem to have done their damage. People are frightened enough to stay away from what they would normally do and there’s an atmosphere of unease that pervades the city – I even felt it on the bus ride back home on Sunday. Terror attacks thrive on the sort of disruption this kind of tension engenders – I hope and pray that calm and normalcy returns to this otherwise bustling and confident city.
Reading the reports of the blasts shook me a little. One often reads about terror plots and bombs going off all over the world but those are often quite far and removed from one’s experience. This one hit pretty close, close enough to be disturbing for me. One of the bombs went off at a bus stop that I often make use of and is about 100m away from the church that I go to for Sunday mass. A little too close for comfort but then life does go on.
This makes one pause to consider the fragility and ephemeral nature of the life that we lead. That’s not to say that we should bemoan our vulnerability and seek to retreat into shells that we construct to protect us from the outside world. No, we need to embrace this fragility and seek to do as much as we can with the time that we have. This seems to be the same thing that thousands of others have told us to do but in the light of all that’s happening, there’s a certain immediacy to putting that into action. Stands to reason – if we do lead a fairly fragile existence that can prove to be fairly short as well, wouldn’t it make sense to ensure that all that we seek to achieve all that we hope to both in our lives and in our relations with others?
I shan’t try to link these two quite disparate experiences into something vaguely coherent but will leave them here as a record of my return from the fairly intense experiences that I’ve gone through the past couple of weeks and my effort to return to some sense of normalcy and the routine that I’ve been used to.