Posted by: Mike Ferruggia | July 29, 2009

Into Great Silence; The Trappist Life

So, the Catholic channel broadcast Into Great Silence, amovie I made a point of seeing in the theatres when it came out, oh, a year or two or three ago. Filmakers were allowed to film for about 6 months at a trappist monastery in, I think Switzerland, I know I’m getting some facts wrong here, but, the movie is deeply contemplative because it’s not done as a traditional documentary, but just filming, just seeing the monks do their thing. It can certainly put you to sleep, but I’m riveted by the lifestyle. The Great Silence is a great name for it, and it’s what all contemplatives of all faiths gravitate towards, because it is here that you have the greatest chance of advancing in the spiritual life, of becoming aware of your nature as a spiritual being. The semantics, the differences, the trappings, no pun intended, fall away, and you are left with the sublime silence, the powerful silence that finally allows you to hear. There are still fundamental philosophical differences that I’m constantly wrestling with, but I think I’m getting to the point where they can all be reconciled in the mystery of the ineffable, whether I am created by God, or creation itself, the tao itself…

The life is one of rhythm, balance, and harmony. It is one ensconced in nature. It is one of community, of self sufficiency, of goodness. Of course, in this instance, it is primarily christocentric, this is the fundamental belief of any catholic, we are saved by the messiah, Jesus Christ. Yes, trappists and other monks of the catholic faith live very taoist lives, but it cannot be without Christ and without the church. And so, it’s a stumbling block for me, at least for now.

But, the movie did inspire me to go to work the next day like a monk, doing the work I do, just as the brothers went about their back breaking chores. It’s not much different. Oh, the milieu is more conducive in the mountains. The silence, the unified community, the unity of purpose, the entire way of life, the prayer. In the mall, it starts the minute you walk in the door. You must turn on the music, and right away your brain is being distracted. And while I certainly try to be taoist and peaceful and gentle and all the things I have been training to be all my life, the push and pull of the crowds can get to you. Even Jesus got fed up once in a while and lost his cool.

But, in all humility, I live my life as an example for others, as an influence for others. I want to affect people, let them know it’s ok to smile, to be kind, to be gentle. It’s mindblowing how mindblowing it is for people to walk into a store and be met by someone nice. Ha! Well, it’s ok. I’m even covertly doing my tai chi, sinking while I stand there, twirling the shoe retreival sticks like a tai chi staff, even tried a little circle walking around the shoes.

On the day seeing Into Great Silence, a nun from the phillipines walked in to by a pair of shoes. She had enough cash for one pair, but spent a good deal of time over another pair she wanted to bring bacj to the convent. I asked her if she wanted those also, and she said she couldn’t afford it, perhaps someone would donate the money and when she came back in three months she would buy them. I bought her the shoes(I seeded 20 so we’ll see what I reap, although superstition says now I told the story I ruined it).

If you are a contemplative, it’s possible to bring it into the world. You just have to be vigilant and disciplined. I haven’t practiced my tai chi as much as I would like, although I was doing some cool things with it today. Discipline is important. And the rest of the world has to see that there is another way, there is a holy way. It doesn’t have to be vicious, petty, nasty, profane all the time. God is calling all of us to love, to compassion, to goodness, to purity, to humility, to gentleness, to kindness. Catholicism calls us to these things. Buddhism calls us to these things. Taoism calls us to these things. I need to stop worrying about who is doing the calling and focus on the doing.


The shoe salesman



  1. Mike, as someone who is also a Tai Chi enthousiast and interested in the Taoist way of thinking and living I enjoy your postings.

    I saw the movie Into Great Silence last year when it was broadcasted on TV in The Netherlands. It awed me and I was moved by their lifestyle. As you say, almost Taoist way of living. However living in the world as we do it is more difficult to be gentle then when you live in a community of monks in the mountains.

    BTW more details on the movie can be found at (

    Thanks for your postings.

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