December 14, 2012

Regarding the Dec. 13 Style article “Refuge in silence”:

The description of the tiny, secluded cabin in the middle of the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in Northeast Washington sounds like nirvana indeed. That “the hermitage” has been booked solid since it opened to the public in October is testament to the fact that people are thirsty for solitude. But in our mad dash toward silence — where we pay for inner peace and stand in line for solitude — we often forget that the “quiet” we so desperately seek lies right within each of us. It is there for the taking — and free of charge.

If we become as disciplined at sitting down every day for 20 minutes of silent reflection as we are at sprinting headlong toward that next promotion, our lives would become far more balanced and meaningful.

Sure, I’d be as happy as the next person to be bumped up on the wait list for that peaceful little place among the monks. But in the meantime, I’ll continue turning inward on daily and tapping into that silent oasis that exists right in my own heart. Why? Because when I power down, shut it off and make a concerted effort to create quiet around me, I can finally hear the sound of silence — and with it, my own inner voice and the powerful sound of peace.

To that end, the article was a bit off the mark with the words “solitude isn’t that simple.” It’s simple, all right. It’s just not easy.

Kristin Clark Taylor, Great Falls

I grew up in the Brookland area of the District in the 1940s. Our Otis Street house was separated from a lower section of the property of the Franciscan Monastery by only an alley. Once we were old enough to climb the eight-foot fence, we entered into a glorious play area that we used for everything imaginable, from treehouses to a homemade softball field and basketball court.

It was the perfect urban-country experience. The area was not developed and was rather remote from the monastery buildings. Some of the friars occasionally came by to watch us play, but no one chased us away.

We even put up a basketball backboard on one of the cedars and strung wire netting for a softball backstop. But the greatest thing was having acres of hills and trees to play among (and a place to sled after big snows).

I don’t know where exactly on the Franciscan property that retreat cottage is situated, but I am anxious to take a look soon. I am sure it is somewhere near where we played cowboys and Indians and four-man softball.

Robert J. Wilson, Arlington

The article on hermitage retreats described the difficulties of sticking to a crash diet of solitude. Like ultra-low-calorie crash diets, solitude crash diets are not easy to maintain. They come as a shock to the system. Could it be that a binge-purge cycle of overstimulation and constant connectedness is as unhealthy as a binge-purge cycle of food overconsumption?

Maybe instead of bouncing like a yo-yo between crazy busyness and a silent hermitage, we would be better off maintaining a lifestyle of healthy moderation in the electronic age.

For some people, what helps is to keep the cellphone but stay away from the app store, to switch from unlimited texts to a pay-per-text plan and to minimize exposure to mobile devices, computer screens and TVs after dark, when the bluish artificial light most disrupts natural sleep cycles.

Kathleen Hansen, Portland, Ore.