Ty Mawr Convent is tucked away in the beautiful border country between England and Wales in Monmouthshire above the Wye valley. It is easy to miss the narrow lane which leads down to it, and once there you will see no other habitation for miles around. Rising up across the field is the guesthouse, Michaelgarth. From here there is a magnificent view of the distant hills, covered in forest.
There is no access to mobile phones here. Instead, the air is filled with birdsong from dozens of birds we rarely see or hear nowadays. I even heard the cuckoo’s call here last year in May. There are horses and sheep grazing in the fields from the nearby farm. You might meet a wild stag when walking.
The silence and the peace are palpable.
I have been coming here for several years on a silent retreat. We call ourselves Hermits in Company. We are part of the Bede Griffiths Sangha. Bede Griffiths was a Benedictine monk who felt called to go to India to discover, as he put it, the other half of his soul. He died in 1993.
Many of us have visited his ashram, Shantivanam, in southern India. Here in Wales we meet to meditate three times a day, we sing bhajans and we listen to readings drawn from many spiritual disciplines.
A wonderful sense of community grows up between us as, in silence, we carry out the routine tasks of the day, read, reflect, walk or simply sit and contemplate. We come to know each other at a very deep level.
I have just returned from one of these retreats, feeling emptied, cleansed, and restored.
This is a poem which I wrote last year.
Song of a hermit
We walked, we chanted, we sat, we ate.
We danced through the days,
We each knew our place in the dance.
The sun shone,
The rain fell,
There was mist in the valley.
The stillness within
Reflected the stillness without.
We listened, we heard, we looked, we saw.
Time stood still.
At daybreak we sang
And all the hills, the trees, the valley
And the birds sang with us.