I spent my Christmas in an unusual way: I spent five days in a solo silent retreat at Snowmass Monastery, a Cistercian monastery just over the hills from us. It was extraordinarily beautiful, as the snow fell and fell, and the mountains were lit at night by a brilliant full moon. I joined the monks for their Christmas Eve midnight mass, for vespers, and for their early morning vigil, walking a mile through the snowy fields from my hermitage to the monastery chapel. The rest of the time I read, sat in meditation, wrote, watched the snow, walked, and reconnected with my own spirit, in a lovely octagonal stone hermitage, rabbits hopping in the snow all around.
This quote from Thomas Merton was on the door the main retreat house, something I thought about a lot while I was there: “There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”