Four Days of Solitude at New Camaldoli Hermitage
By Skylar Skikos, founder of Fogdog Ventures
The first thing I do is make my bed. The room is spartan; a pair of sheets and a wool blanket are folded on the twin bed with a small painting watching from above, an old desk faces the window, and a rocking chair invites comfort. I walk outside and am awestruck standing 1,300 feet above the shoreline. All is silent aside from crashing waves, wind-rattled trees, and the occasional birdcall.
I am at New Camaldoli Hermitage. I will spend the next four days alone in silent retreat. No speaking, no phone, no outside communication; only me with my thoughts, my journal, and books. I have made four visits. The process is always the same, yet the experience is profoundly different. I try not to bring much of an agenda; sometimes I have a question in mind, others a theme to contemplate. Camaldoli reveals what it wants regardless of my plan.
Having settled in, I take a walk. The two-mile driveway doubles as a meandering walking path – complete with dramatic views of ocean crashing into land – and connects to a short forest loop. My pace is measured; I shift between the bucolic setting and the day’s trivialities. I’m acclimating and not fully present, so I walk the loop several times to calm my mind.
After my hike I enter the chapel, an octagonally-shaped space with a wood-vaulted ceiling and commanding presence. I place a cushion on the floor and start my first meditation - not my deepest; I am still antsy with high expectations. I stick with it and try to let go of judgement. Afterwards, I return to my cabin. I feel the habitual urge to check my phone, but it’s locked away in my car. Instead, I jot down some musings and unwind for the evening.
I awake early each morning and enter a routine of sauntering, journaling, meditating, reading, drawing, and just being. These activities provide structure, but I maintain flexibility as to when and how I do them to invite spontaneity.
Gradually, my mind slows, and insights emerge. The process is neither linear nor easy. I struggle with solitude and silence, and intense feelings arise. Day three is the most difficult, the struggle finally culminating in catharsis after which I experience greater clarity. The specifics vary. My first visit helped me understand that my perceived external anchors are illusory; the real anchor is my internal judge of what Ishould have and do. Another reminded me that the deep contrasts of my upbringing have given me a unique perspective and should be accentuated, not downplayed.
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect is the widely varying emotional experience. My first visit brought connection, serenity, and euphoria. The second brought fear and panic before eclipsing into near mystical meditation – ineffable, noetic, transient, and passive. Most recently, I felt calm and grounded.
This is my place. It reveals ‘me’ to me. I want to know more. I must go back. I can’t wait to go back. What will I discover?