Popular Refuge Demonstrates Value of Silence in the City

As recent reports show, there's little opportunity for escaping the growing din of the man-made world. The popularity of a silent retreat built in the middle of D.C. demonstrates a growing appreciation for the sounds of silence.

With neither the depths of the oceans nor the remote wilderness offering relief from the hum of our ever-connected world, it's no wonder that "the number of Americans going to silent retreats has been climbing," as Michelle Boorstein reports. Perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise then that a spartan 350-square-foot "hermitage" built by the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in Northeast Washington has been fully booked since it opened in October.

Advertised as a “Refuge for the Metropolitan Hermit,” the retreat was designed by Catholic University architecture students, who were asked to turn off all their electronic devices and "spend an hour alone and silent" in order to "envision the needs and rhythms of tenants who were unplugged."

"Of the 12," says Boorstein, "only three were able to do it."

"The hermitage itself looks like a structure that would be profiled in Dwell magazine: simple, sustainable modern materials and design with a clean, sparse interior. There is a Bible on the table, a cross on the wall and an intentional division of its 'profane,' or everyday, space (kitchen, bath, bed) and 'sacred' space, which is a deck with a chair on it."

The biggest challenge for many of the hermitage's occupants is not how to unplug, but what to do once you get there. As Boorstein notes, "it turns out solitude isn’t that simple. Although participation in silent retreats is on the rise, many of those preparing to spend time at the hermitage said they were so unaccustomed to unstructured time alone that they made to-do lists — then feared they were doing 'solitude' wrong and scrapped them. They agonized over what to bring and wear and eat, as if they were traveling to an exotic land."

Full Story: Silent retreats’ rising popularity poses a challenge: How to handle the quiet

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