Spiritual Counsellor Tells About Living In Silence For 12 Years
Miek Pot is a spiritual counsellor, living in Bruges in Belgium. She came onto the State We're In to explain why for 12 years she had lived in silence, far from the madding crowd, in a Belgian convent.
Miek Pot has always been a person of extremes. In Leiden, as a student, this meant she threw herself into the usual student things: smoking, drinking, regularly rolling into bed at five or six in the morning and neglecting her studies.
With exam failure imminent, a friend suggested she go away to a monastery to study, and so, aged 21, she did, spending a week in a retreat, studying in complete silence, because the inhabitants of the order take a vow of silence.
Isolation In The Convent
This lack of noise made a great impression on her. Miek felt refreshed, in a way that she hadn't felt for many years. She realised that, in the noise and activity of her hectic student life, she had lost herself. But in the solitude, she had glimpsed something of what she had lost. Miek was deeply touched but couldn't give a name to the experience.
She needed to name it, to isolate what had struck her and this longing led her into travels - to India, to the Greek Orthodox Church and finally back to her own religion, Catholicism and the monastery. After a few consultations, at the age of 27, she ended up in a French order in French-speaking Belgium, a place she was to call home for the next 12 years.
Emphasis was placed on solitude, so each person had their own dwelling. They would rise at 3 a.m. (something Miek found a real struggle for the first two years because this was normally her bed time) and each person would have an hour and a half of meditation. This was followed by the morning service. And breakfast.
Then study, then the first proper meal at about 11 a.m. Then they would study, meditate and work, which involved painting crockery that was sold in a small shop on site, to make a bit of money. At 4 p.m. they'd have their second meal - vegetables and maybe a cookie, then another service and bed by 7.30 p.m. They ate, meditated and worked in silence and solitude wherever possible.
On Sundays they were allowed to talk to each other at recreation point, when they would go for a walk in the woods. The trouble, Miek says, is that they were all out of practise: "The thing is that nobody has spoken all week, so no one speaks for the first half hour. We just about warm up and then it's time to go back to silence again!"
Her friends and family missed her terribly and her parents could only visit her twice a year. Did Miek make new friends inside the retreat? "No. Not at all. The distance from other people was very important. The silence is necessary to form a distance from your emotions, and it is hard to maintain friendships without breaking the silence. There was a life-coach. Once a week there was someone we could talk to about our problems."
Miek's lifestyle doesn't sound like a barrel of laughs. She agrees: "It's not fun, not like going down to the shops with your friends and buying clothes." But there were moments of meditation where she found herself and that made her happy. As she says, "Being happy made it all worthwhile."
After the hermitage
Miek knew it was time to leave when she had a 'strong experience'. She struggles for the right words to describe it, but enlightenment or epiphany probably hit close to the mark.
Miek uses the analogy of having a coat that suddenly doesn't fit. Her external frame of reference, her life in the monastery was that coat. And she knew it was time to leave. That was eight years ago.
She took a job in education to pay the bills but didn't love it. At the same time she had this urge to share her convent years in some way. She studied Neuro Linguistic Programming, which gave her the terminology to communicate a spiritual experience without using religious terminology, and since then she has become a spiritual counsellor.
Miek thinks it is really important that young people have the chance to go through what she went through, although probably not for 12 years! She thinks silence is important for young people to help them mentally dissociate from outside pressures and discover what makes them happy. "At the moment, their lives are so busy and often full of ambition that they'll get to 30 and suddenly realise that this isn't what they want to do to make themselves happy. My great dream is to found a monastery that young people can go to for a few months to help them realise what they want a decade or two earlier."
You can find out more about Miek Pot via her website: www.miekpot.com