While I’m, quite obviously, not cut out to be a monk, I found last weekend that I have a lot to learn from their way of life.
I was welcomed as a guest into the quiet walls of Westmalle Abbey (not to be confused with Downton Abbey), which lies to the north of Antwerp.
Here, I journeyed with the monks and mirrored their way of life for a short time – enjoying their hospitality and some much needed, introspective alone time.
Meals of bread, jam, fresh cream and cheese and, of course, my favorite Trappist beer were kept in silence, as per the way of the monks.
Brick walls enclosed the chapel, guest houses and monk quarters, keeping out the sounds of the highway that carry from just down the dirt path. You could hear noises of the farm in the far distance – of cows and roosters – but mainly the only whisper you could hear was wind in the trees.
The first church service started and ended before daybreak, and no one bothered with watches or clocks, as the chiming bell tower kept time.
There were no engagements, no responsibilities – outside of morning, afternoon and evening prayer and the occasional coffee break – of course.
My friend, Lyndsey, and I made a best friend while on an evening walk in the courtyard – a cat named Felipe who was thoroughly convinced he was a guard dog. A monk in charge of the guest food, named Benedict, also became a friend, asking me all about America and offering a listening ear to my thoughts on Europe.
There were beautiful parts of the day, carved out for you to simply be alone in your room, meditating, praying, thinking – whatever you feel called to. For me, this was precious time to really stop and think about my journey, not only this semester, but the journey of the last two and a half years.
I feel like I’ve gotten to know myself fairly well – college and travel will do that to you – but with every new experience I know I’m still gaining glimpses of the person I want to become.
I’m so grateful for an experience like Westmalle, which made me press pause on a busy schedule – something I’m never inclined to do – and simply sit and think about how Europe has changed me and why it’s changed me. Press pause and think about what I want to do differently when I go home in just two short weeks. Press pause and say thank you for everything I have experienced this semester, both the difficult and the incredible.