One might ask why we had planned into our itinerary days of silence. As I reflected in my journal in silence and solitude, I thought of the early monks who found their way to Inis Mor. I thought back to St. Kevin and the isolated places we’d visited along the upper lake at Glendalough where he’d retreated to for solitude and silence.
On this day, each of us in the group had the freedom to go off alone to whatever place we chose to reflect and just be present in the spot where we were. At times we crossed paths with each other, but much of the time was spent in some sense, alone.
I first walked into the village of Kilronan and sat briefly staring out at the harbor where we had first arrived at Inis Mor. I watched the activity there in the village as visitors were beginning to arrive. Drivers with vans offered tourists tours of the island. Several drivers of horses and carts were also available. A group of young people arrived and rented bicycles to ride around to see the sites.
Then I walked up the hill and found the grocery store, next to which was a coffee shop. I opted for a coffee and scone rather than a snack from the grocery store and sat outside in the crisp air observing the people of the island coming and going to the store and stopping for coffee and conversation.
Things on Inis Mor move at a more relaxed pace than we are familiar with in the US. Even the major roads are narrow and traveled as much by people on foot, bicycle, and horse cart as by motor vehicle. Though it seemed that the cars and vans were going fast, compared to highway speeds at home their speeds were moderate.
On this day of silence as I walked for a while, even with people all around, I was noticing things that I might have missed had I been chatting with someone. My senses were free and open to take in the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of the island. I savored the coffee that is somewhat different from what I have at home, the scone that was freshly made. I soaked in the sun and the wind and enjoyed being in the clean air. Then as I walked back down toward the seaside, I passed a horse in an enclosure between houses. It was standing near enough that I could have touched it from the roadway. Not something I’m used to in my suburban neighborhood at home.
I continued on the road above the seaside until I found an opening in the rock wall that allowed me to pass through to the rocks above the bay. The tide was out, so there was an expense of wet rock and sand below me. A few birds were hopping about. Seaweed that had been washed in clung to rocks. Farther out several boats were anchored. In the distance the lower end of the island curled around into view. Thinking about those early monks who came here and found places to retreat from the busy-ness of the world to enrich their spiritual lives, I found a smooth rock with tufts of grass and flowers on either side on which to sit. When seated, I was hidden from the view of passersby on the road. There in my “solitary cell” I ate a piece of Butler’s chocolate bar and wrote in my journal. Decadence (that chocolate) and austerity together, I thought. But then I wondered about what the first people to come to this island saw. What vision led them to stay and make a livable place of it? A sacred place, both in pre-Christian and Christian times.
I don’t know how long I sat there for time loses meaning in silence and contemplation. For many of us who are constantly aware of calendars, appointments, time schedules and to do lists, it is a good thing to step into a bit of the natural world and pause just to be, to open the senses and turn off the mind chatter. These are moments that offer the opportunity to become one with all of the created order and be at peace with it. These are moments to open ourselves to who we really are, aside from all the roles we play and jobs we do. These are moments to come into closer communion with the divine.
Just before dinner that evening we met again as a group and shared our experiences of the day. This was our way of breaking the silence and reentering into our community. After dinner we really broke silence, joining islanders and visitors alike in the pub for Irish music and dancing. We even got to see Padraigin again, this time demonstrating Irish dance. This was our last evening on Inis Mor, and we savored it.