Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A Singular Experience at Big Sur’s New Camaldoli Hermitage

Most people drive through Big Sur’s stunning South Coast with no knowledge that a group of Roman Catholic monks reside in a unique community two miles above Highway 1. Even less folks know that members of the general public can stay at the New Camaldoli Hermitage and experience what the monks refer to as “the precious gift of time for a contemplative life.”
While researching the Moon Monterey & Carmel Guidebook, I had the distinct pleasure of spending an evening at the hermitage and experiencing a place that is a world apart from contemporary culture. There, your tethers to technology are abruptly cut. Wi-Fi signals are devoured by the Easter egg blue sky, and the most transfixing screen around is the giant Pacific hanging down from the horizon.
I stayed in a private hermitage, which was essentially a trailer with a view that a Silicon Valley type would sell a start-up to own. It had basic amenities including a bed, a restroom, a desk, a fridge, and a stovetop. This being a retreat run by devout Roman Catholics, the trailer was “decorated” with a crucifix over the bed, rosary beads, and other religious items that may make some uneasy.
More relateable for a guest who hadn’t been to a church service in over a decade was a framed quotation on one wall that basically summed up why 17 men were living up here in solitude. It was a framed copy of St. Romuald’s Rule that said in part: “Sit in your cell as in paradise. Put the whole world behind you and forget it. Watch your thoughts like a good fishermen watching for fish.”
With the absence of cell phone signals and laptop update chimes, thoughts emerged from the silence like sleek, meaty creatures from the deep. Sitting at a strategically placed bench with a sweeping South Coast view, I looked up and saw a sky freckled with stars. In the distance, the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse waved a wand of light over the land and sea that washed away the stars for a few seconds.
There, humanity and civilization seemed truly dwarfed by nature. The few lights strung haphazardly along the Big Sur Coast were pale reflections of the pinpoint power of the stars above. The highway below was a faint band on the mountains that seemed as transitory as a high tide line or a ring of detritus in a drained bathtub.
I had been describing Big Sur with words for almost two decades, and I had begun to repeat myself like an old blues musician. Suddenly, I was flush with fresh imagery and ideas. Old thoughts and attitudes were thrown out like dirty bathwater.
To use modern jargon, the New Camaldoli Hermitage is a great place to reboot.
New Camaldoli Hermitage is located at 62475 CA-1, a half mile south of Lucia in Big Sur. 831/667-2456, www.contemplation, Overnight stays $105-250