Living with Monks at 20 years old
Am I kidding you?
It all started from wanting to go to a spiritual retreat at some sort of a hermitage since I was fascinated by the life of monks, especially the Buddhist ones.
Listening to entrepreneur Jesse Itzler’s story, who lived with monks on Mount Washington (U.S.) for 15 days, I got inspired even more and wanted to try this experience.
I live in Italy, and the thought of going to a Buddhist monastery at first “scared” me since I wanted to get a softer approach to this world.
After some research, I found out that Camaldoli’s hermitage (and monastery) in Tuscany is one of the most famous — and closest to me- in Italy.
The funny thing is that my dad already knew about this hermitage since he was involved in the furniture deal the monks had to do for their new library.
This happened back in July, and I wanted to leave for this seven-day retreat at the beginning of August.
Unfortunately, after joining a party with some friends, I had to quarantine for 2 weeks and reschedule my trip. Twice.
In the second week of September, I finally had the opportunity to join the monks of Camaldoli. The location was absurd, more significant than I thought.
A little village in the middle of the forest, surrounded by trees with over 30m of height and wild animals you could hear during the night.
I got into my cell, named after St. Andrew, and it was WAY bigger than I thought.
Apparently, the doors were not as big.
It was located at the end of a hill, surrounded by a little garden and a perimetrical wall.
It was one of the biggest cells of the hermitage since there were 6 different rooms: a medium-sized bathroom, a little church, a big entrance, a drying room, another room full of woods for the fireplace, and my room, with a microscopic study room inside of it.
But that was not it. My bed was a cell itself. I was literally in a double cell.
After having settled, I found out, not surprisingly, that there was no wifi in my cell.
After a while, I found an interesting spot to get the wifi, outside of my cell, and since I had neither the time nor the need to check my phone during the day, I had to get out of the cell in the middle of the night if I wanted to send a text to my family.
So, after a few hours of reading, here comes dinner time, which in monkish means 7:30 pm.
I usually eat between 8 pm and 8:30 pm, but this was not a drastic change.
Moreover, the surprise came when I realised that I was not going to have dinner with the monks but with other guests and tourists.
The average age was around 60, and the youngest in the room, besides me, was a 40-something-year-old priest.
After chatting a bit with them, I knew they were all kind people, but one of my struggles came from a man from Bologne sitting in front of me, talking about Juventus and other football matches in the upcoming days.
ALL THE TIME.
I mean…I came here, at a hermitage, for a week, using my phone only a few minutes at night, in silence and isolation, barely talking to my family and friends and wanting to just be by myself, and this guy comes out of nowhere asking me about Juventus?! And I’m an Inter fan!!!
COME ON, MAN!
Nonetheless, after having dealt with the dinner, I came back to my cell at 8:30 pm, checked the programme for the next day, and realised that the only thing I could do was read. The books I brought were “The Bible” (of course, even though they had put 3 OTHERS in my room — thanks monks), Tim Ferriss’ “4 hour Body”, and Jesse Itzler’s “Living with the monks”.
As you can imagine, I could not have missed this last one.
Indeed, I finished it within the first 2 days.
Let’s talk about the schedule:
You could do whatever you wanted for the whole day.
Regarding the main activities, the meals and the religious celebrations, such as the mess on Tuesday and the chants, sung both in the morning and in the evening, you had to be on time.
Being late was not allowed.
In fact, I could not even be early. I had to be JUST ON TIME.
I had come 5 minutes early for a celebration or a meal several times, and there was NOBODY. 2 minutes earlier? Nobody. They all came just on time.
So from day 2 to day 5, I went to the morning chants at 7 am, and they were so relaxing that you could fall back to sleep. I later found out that there were other chants early in the morning (at 6 am!), for which the monks had to get up at 4:30/5 am. EVERY SINGLE DAY. (FOREVER. 😅)
After breakfast, the activity that I was looking forward to attending every day was meditation. No, not THAT kind of meditation, which I initially thought of.
It was an hour-long meditation about verses on the Bible and on the Gospel.
Since there were also yoga classes held by a German monk, my first thought was about mindfulness meditation or that sort of thing.
Apparently, it was not. But I found it so fascinating and inspiring that I had to take notes all the time, writing more than half of my journal.
Ok, and then? Nothing. You were able to do whatever you wanted to do until noon or so (lunchtime).
As I said before, my main goal was to focus on myself, reading, writing, developing inner thoughts that I could not have experienced before.
So that’s what I did.
But I quickly realised that I was not going to transform my life or make any significant changes.
That’s because I already spend a lot of time by myself, and even though I frequently listen to music or videos, I am still involved in the process of self-thinking and introspection.
In the following days, I asked if I could eat meals with the monks to know them more profoundly.
So in the last 2/3 days of my retreat, I got to spend more time with the monks.
First of all, it was surprising how good their physical conditions were.
Each of them seemed to be at least 10 years younger than I thought.
There was this monk, Axel, who RODE his bike from BERLIN to Camaldoli. Twice. From his looks, you could tell he was not Italian but seemed more of a Buddhist monk because of his bald head and skinny but athletic body.
He was the most talented of the monks. From teaching yoga classes (which I took a couple of times) to cooking (he cooked an outstandingly good brown organic bread) and singing (he was the head of the choir), he showed great talents and the drive in everything he did. Plus, he was 41 and did look GREAT.
The total monks at the hermitage were 8, and half of them were foreigners. There were also two visiting priests that had meals with them and were hosted in the cells.
Fun fact: I was the ONLY visitor who got the sleep in the cell.
That’s because I requested it during my booking.
One of the monks, the one who held the morning meditations, was the exact copy of Albus Silente, so I thought he was 100+ years old.
Turned out that he was 66, oops.
By getting to eat with them, I asked questions about their life and was introduced to a couple of apprentices.
One of them, a 30-year-old guy, came from Tanzania when he was in his early 20s. Two of his friends came with him but lived at the monastery, a 20-minute walk away.
Another guy, which I had walked by for the entire week, only talked during the last couple of days of his stay.
He legit looked like a 25-year-old (AT MOST!) apprentice, but when he told me he was 41 and had been a monk for the past 12 years, I got stunned.
Man, these guys know how to treat themselves — I thought.
It’s funny when you think about it, but they really are in fantastic physical, mental and spiritual (duh?) conditions above average.
I think that’s because:
- They are mastering their relationship with their inner spirit and with God.
- They eat natural and healthy products cultivated from their garden.
- They are using smartphones and digital devices with control. They are not addicted to them and have higher life goals than wasting time on frivolous things.
They don’t always train; I actually think besides the yoga guy, none of the trains at all, but they walk, they have great mountain trips and trails to go through, so they should be able to spend a lot of time outside, in nature.
Heading to the final days of this experience, I thought that 7 days were enough since they are refreshing and a great way to recharge and disconnect from daily life, but on the other hand, I recognise it can be challenging to live this kind of lifestyle.
Nonetheless, it’s their life choice that they have committed to, and I much respect that.
So now, to wrap up, here are the lessons that I learned from the Monks and how we can implement them in our daily life.
- THEY HAVE A STRONG SENSE OF COMMUNITY: they live for each other, being in touch with other brothers during meals, but isolated in their cell most of the day.
- THEY ARE IN CONTROL OF THEIR TIME, AND OF THEIR LIVES: they repeat their tasks every day; it’s the repetition and the discipline of doing such things that make them stronger and in control.
- THEY LIVE AN HEALTHY LIFESTYLE: they’re just living healthy. (Most of them, most of the time).
- THEY ALWAYS AIM TO SOMETHING BIGGER THAN THEM: they are not worried about little things; they aim to a bigger end.
- THEY ARE KIND AND HELP OTHERS: kindness is the ultimate currency. Be kind.
- THEY LIVE IN THE PRESENT: we always think about the future, what’s next etc.… but we rarely focus and enjoy the present.
- THEY QUESTION THEMSELVES EVERY SINGLE DAY: being humble is being smart. You can’t improve if your ego is always in the first line.
- THEY LET GOD CHANGE THEM ON A DAILY BASIS: they fall too, but they always come back stronger and purer.
- THEY ARE DEVOTED TO GOD AND TO THE BIGGER PICTURE: anything they do is for God’s sake, aiming to a better future.
Thinking back about it, I am satisfied with this experience. I’m really looking forward to going to India or similar foreign countries to pursue other trips like this and dig deep into different types of retreats.
Hope you got something out of this article. Either you learned, got entertained or inspired to do a similar experience, it’s up to you :)