Miek Pot – Into the Great Silence
Interview by Renate McNay
Renate: Hello, and welcome to Conscious TV. My name is Renate McNay and my guest today is Miek Pot.
Renate: Miek is here from Netherland and Miek is a guide into The Great Silence. And we are going to hear her story, how she found The Great Silence herself. She did something very unusual; she entered, at a young age, a Carthusian order and, ja, we are going to hear her story.
Nice to have you here, Miek.
Miek: OK, thank you.
Renate: I was really looking forward to meeting you and to hear about your life in the Carthusian monastery.
Now, one thing which intrigued me was the book starts – which is only out in German and Dutch yet. In the German, for our German viewers, it’s ‘In der Stille Hörst Du Dich Selbst’. And I have the translation here in English, which is called ‘Into the Heart of my Soul’, but it’s not published yet, but it will be published soon.
And the way the book starts is: “In the blueprint of my life was written that I shall enter a Carthusian convent”. Now tell me about that.
Miek: Well, it is, of course, not the details, that it was a Carthusian convent, of course, but, for me as a traditional astrologer, it was clear that I should have a life more hermitical.
Renate: Mm hm.
Miek: I have many planets in my first house and in my twelfth house and not any planet in the house of the others. So a way of a hermitical life, a hermit life, would be part of my life. That’s sure when I look at my birth chart.
Renate : Right, right.
Miek: And in that sense, you can say, it is in the blueprint of my life. It is written that I should be a hermit, or something like that.
Renate: So, when you were young and you looked at your chart and you saw that, how did you feel about that?
Miek: Unfortunately, I didn’t have that knowledge when I was young.
Miek: I was just afterwards as I say ‘Well it’s logical that I have been in such a convent, in such a monastery, it’s that chart’. But I didn’t know it when I was young, I only found the attraction, a longing for such a life of silence and solitude, but I didn’t know where it came from, and how and where.
Renate: So let’s start with… OK, you were young and you told me you lived a life of extremes. You know, you were out there partying all the time and… what have you…
Miek: Smoking, drinking.
Renate: Smoking, drinking, having fun. You were studying, I think, history?
Miek: Yes, mediaeval history.
Renate: Yes. So how did it happen? That, all of a sudden, there was this shift?
Miek: Yes, it was, I think, in my first student year, I studied history and I had an active student life, it was consisting of going out, smoking, drinking – a lot of drinking! And a lot of smoking!
Renate: And what about studying?
Miek: Studying never ever, never visiting college, and so on. But all a kind of feeling of not being happy. Kind of feeling – unhappy is maybe too big a word but it was a kind of a lack deep inside. And then –
Renate: Could you name this lack? Did you have a feeling what this lack was about?
Miek: It was unsatisfaction, unfulfillness…
Miek: … a kind of superficially… Well, there was a lack of depth and deeper things and, one day, my father said, “Well it’s all right that life and the fun, but you have to study”. And then so I decided to pass on exams and a friend of mine said, “Miek, go to a monastery, there’s a lot of silence solitude and there you can study very well”. I thought ‘well, it’s a very clever idea, so then I can pass my exams’.
Miek: I can have a lot of fun afterwards again!
And so I entered there for a week, I thing, the first time it was a week. And I was completely struck by the silence, which was so deep that I’d ever, ever, ever heard. It was a very astonishing experience.
Renate: So did you meditate there? Or what did you do?
Miek: Not at all. I was not religious, I was not devotional, so I didn’t assist at the mass and these kind of things. But I was completely alone in the guest house and there was not yet a mobile, and the Internet and all these things, it was in the 80s.
So I lived completely in silence there, in solitude, and I felt myself so good, so at ease with myself, and that was a very new experience for myself. And I thought ‘well, this is very interesting!’ I never felt so good, in circumstances that are, really, not very good for human eyes, you know, having nothing: no radio, no music, nothing, no people to talk to…
Renate: It’s actually good for us, but we think it’s not good! [laughs]
Miek: Yes. So, for me, it was a very astonishing experience.
Renate: Yes, yes. So you stayed there for how long?
Miek: The first time it was a week, but it struck me for my whole life. It put my life upside down.
Renate: Yeah. And what did you do then?
Miek: Well, I was really upset when I came back to my student life and I didn’t feel that ease there. But I didn’t want to talk about it neither. I thought ‘my friends will say I’m crazy, or I’m a sick psychotic, or there’s something wrong with me’. So I was a bit ashamed. And when I was alone, in freetime and so, I went visiting abbeys and monasteries and convents, and I found it fascinating. I found it fascinating, it was such a different world, but, on the other hand, I was a bit ashamed of because it was old-fashioned, it was grey and odd, and not exciting. It was a, kind of, a difficult love! [laughs]
Renate: Yes, a forbidden love! [both laugh]
Miek: Ja, ja. Yes. Exactly!
Renate: But then you decided to go to India, to…
Miek: I thought ‘well maybe…’ I was talking with all kind of people, in new spirituality and old catholic tradition – I’m from a catholic family – and they said, “Yeah, it’s a call, it’s a call, it’s God calling you” and I thought ‘God calling me! What a…!’ [makes disbelieving noises] I didn’t understand anything about it. And I thought ‘when it’s God calling me, I have to look for it, God, and I think He’s more with poor people and people in bad circumstances than in convent, with grey faces and…’ So, I thought ‘I have to go to India to Mother Theresa’.
Miek: So I found it more authentic and I thought ‘when there is a real God calling me, then I am going there, I am looking maybe find something…’
Renate: He lives there!
Miek: Yeah! He is there. God lives there! [both laugh]
Renate: There is God with Mother Theresa!
Miek: There will be God!
Miek: A bit childish but, for me, it was such a strange world, you know?
Miek: It was for me so new, so it was a bit childish view of it.
So you came there. You stayed with Mother Theresa for three months.
Miek: Yeah, I came there.
Renate: How was that?
Miek: Also a fascinating experience, I went to Calcutta, I had an air ticket. It was all so a bit naïve and childish because I had a ticket from Denmark, I think, to Calcutta and I came to Calcutta with the airplane. And Calcutta is a metropol of millions of people and I came there in a crowded, noisy, unknown city. I was really a child, Alice in Wonderland. And such a different culture. And then I went with a taxi, I remember very well, to the house of Mother Theresa and a sister said, “Wait, wait, wait, Mother will come”. And, suddenly, a hand on my shoulder and I turned and Mother Theresa – small like this [indicates height] – she says, “Come, come, come, come, come”. [beckoning with finger]
And there she talked with me and it was so astonishing. She said, “Jesus is calling you!” [Miek makes disbelieving face]
Renate : [laughing] God is calling you, Jesus is calling you! [both laugh]
Miek: But it was fascinating, you know, the person.
Renate: Yeah, yeah.
Miek: And that world, in the different culture. Yes, it was fascinating!
Renate: How was Mother Theresa?
Miek: Not an easy personality.
Miek: Because I stayed there for three months and I went to her also in the inner land of India because I had a visa which was not continued because the authorities were very contra with Mother Theresa, because it was the Islamitic part of India, and she was really Christian and so they didn’t like her.
Miek: So I had to flee, in fact, to the inner land, to another house of her. And she herself brought me there, with an ambulance. So she was very friendly to me, very… near… to me. But at the end of my stay, and she asked, “And now what are you going to do?” and I said, “Well, it’s not for me here” she was really angry! She said, “You said ‘No’ to Jesus!” I said, “ ‘No’ to Jesus!” [disbelievingly] “my God, no!” She was a very tough woman but has to go on her condition.
Renate: Yes, she was very driven.
Miek: Yes, very driven and ‘it has to be like that! And not otherwise.’
Miek: So I thought ‘well, this is not my way’. [laughs] But it was a fascinating experience, to meet her and to have lived in her… near her…
Renate: But what did you do there, you said it was full of dying people. Did you work with the dying people?
Miek: In Calcutta, she had a house there – it was an old mushki – she had made it her first house, the house of the dying people. And she said to me, “Go to work there”, and I went every morning with the bus, from the house of her, with a bus full of nuns…
Miek: …with also Indian people, going to the dying house and working there feeding people, nursing people. I had never nursed people, I had no nurse education, but I got all kinds of nurse task.
Miek: And I saw lepers and everything. So it was really a fascinating experience, also difficult for me.
Renate: Yeah, I can imagine. I mean, to see this kind of suffering.
Miek: Yeah, yeah.
Renate: And you were still quite young.
Miek: Yeah, yes.
Renate: It must have affected you.
Miek: It taught me also that there were just a very few foreign girls that stayed there. Most of the girls, or boys, stayed for two weeks and they left, they fled. And so I stayed for three months.
Miek: And it was an inner force to discover what was my longing and that call that gave me the power to stay there.
Renate: Yeah. You said something interesting, you said, “People spoke about God, but you wanted to experience God”.
Miek: Yes. Yeah, I found all the big words, you know, ‘Jesus calling you’, ‘God calling you’, and all the prayers, the wordy prayers, I thought ‘yeah, for me it was not God’, you know?
Miek: And I had something like ‘no, it’s not my way’.
Renate: But you didn’t know then what God was.
Miek: No, absolutely not, no.
Renate: OK. But you started to have the clear sense then, you wanted to have the life of a hermit.
Miek: Yes, more and more. It became more and more clear that it was in the silence and in the solitude that I experienced something of which I said ‘yes, that is coming near that big container, signification God’, you know? That has something to do with that mystery which I’m looking for. But it was a long, long way of searching, of looking everywhere… But it came clear to me in the silence and in the solitude.
Renate: Yes. And so then you entered a Carthusian monastery in France…
Miek: Yes, a Carthusian-like monastery, yes.
Renate: Yes. And you felt you’re finally at the right place.
Miek: Yes. There in the silence and in the solitude it was finally that I thought ‘ha! Here is my home. Here it is.’ I have to be here, this is my place.
Renate: So what was the order of the day? How was the structure? What did you do?
Miek: Well, it was very lonely. It was a new Carthusian Order, branched on the old Carthusian Order, so they followed the Byzantine Writ, Rite, for the liturgy.
Renate: Sorry, where did the Carthusian Order start?
Miek: In France.
Renate: In France. And what is it exactly? What’s the meaning of it?
Miek: In fact, it was started by St Bruno, and he started it in the, really, very distant area, where no people could come. And it started as a community of hermits.
Renate: And they all were Christian.
Miek: Yes. They were Christian in the Catholic Church, a branch in the Catholic Church.
Renate: Was it connected to the Desert Fathers?
Miek: Yes, it is. It originated in the spirituality of the Desert Fathers, so like the Skeet in Egypt and Syria, and all these places. In fact it was a small community of hermits and Bruno thought, also, that it was important to keep it small. You’ve seen the Benedictine monasteries like Cluny, also the Trappist and the Cistercians, they are all big monasteries, you know. 50, hundreds of nuns and monks.
But small communities of, maximum, 13/30 hermits. Well organised with an upper house and a lower house. In the lower house there were the communal services – there was the kitchen, the library, the refectory for one meal per week together. And in the upper house there were the monks who were really completely in solitude, completely, who never were in touch –
Renate: So they had their own… –
Miek: Order, their organisation.
Renate: – they had they’re own little house.
Miek: Yes. Every Carthusian nun had a small house and they eat alone, they work alone, they recreate alone, they sleep alone. They live completely alone.
Renate: Yeah. Mm hm.
Miek: And they have a little chapel in that house where they celebrate the liturgy alone. So everything alone. So it is rather unique, in Western Europe, because the St Benedictical monastery life is much more well known, because of the rule of St Benedict. I liked it very much, the hermit life. It was my life, for me. It was my way.
Renate: Well, I’m not surprised. You were telling me earlier in the enneagram you were a type 5.
Miek: Yes. [both laugh]
Renate: You’re supposed to feel like that!
Miek: Well yes I was…
Renate: OK, so you got your own little house and you had your own little garden where you planted some herbs…
Miek: Yes, flowers, and a bit for recreation, we had not really food in the garden, it was too small for it, but we had flowers and bits of small stuff.
Renate: And what did you do the whole day?
Miek: Well, celebrate liturgy alone, eat two meals a day.
Renate: So you got up…
Miek: I got up at 3 o’clock and then it was the first celebration.
Renate: You had an alarm? Or did you get up?
Miek: Yes, an alarm, or we were waked up together by the… [mimes ringing bell]
Miek: By the bell. Then we had a celebration in solitude and meditation – that time for two hours, alone. And then we ate some small fruit – we have taken the night before after mass, taken into our houses. So that was always very difficult because sometimes at night you would like to eat the fruit that was for the breakfast the next morning.
Renate: Yes, yeah.
Miek: So that could be really temptation.
Miek: So it was really very structured, you know, it was like a normal monastic day. Study, eating, working, the routine like a Benedictine day, or something.
Renate: Yeah. And nobody was watching you. You basically could do what you…
Miek: No camera [both laugh]
Renate: No cameras there!
You said something interesting, you know, you talked about, in the book, the importance of the discipline…
Renate: …and the focus.
Renate: Otherwise the demons would come in. ‘Demons’ meaning your thoughts.
Miek: Yes, yeah.
Miek: I very quickly understood that if I shouldn’t keep that structure, that daily routine, I would be the victim of my own demons.
Renate: And what would that mean?
Miek: Well, you become in a, kind of, gauss and then you’ve thrown yourself out of the system. You understand what I mean?
Miek: And so I have to keep myself focused – otherwise it would have been a prison or, you know, a hell. So you needed, every day, to do the exercises to focus yourself to keep yourself in that symbolic language of silence, etc.
Renate: How did you learn that?
Miek: That we could study. We had a coach and a so-called staritz, in the Byzantine tradition. Which I had weekly dialogues with her…
Miek: …and there I spoke about my thoughts, my longings, my dreams, my inner life. My prayer, my meditation time, what passed and so on. And so she advised me, or there were times that she only listened in silence. It depended also on the personality… in the south of Belgium my staritz is more listening, in the south of France my staritz was more directive, so…
Renate: That’s right, at one point you were transferred to a monastery in France, for health reasons.
Renate: Because of the better climate there, I think.
Miek: Yes, yes. In the Provence.
Renate: And when you had the session with the staritz, did they give you some advice or explanations, what’s going on in you?
Miek: Yes, sometimes explanations, sometimes advice, sometimes nothing. Sometimes just a word, like the Desert Fathers.
Renate: Like a koan?
Miek: Yes. Sometimes it was also very difficult, you know. A staritz, you must see, is not like a worldly coach, which is always keeping you up and so on, sometimes she didn’t do anything and it could make me angry, you know?
Miek: I would like to find someone who said, “Oh poor me…”
Renate: You wanted to be the victim! [laughs]
Miek: Sometimes was said “OK”, a little mirror, or nothing at all. It is the wisdom of the Desert Fathers, it is that spirituality, you know. And sometimes it’s hard! It is biting in the sand!
Renate: How did you feel about that?
Miek: Well sometimes I was very… very furious, you know. I know there was a moment – we had a little phone in the hermitage for emergency cases…
Miek: And I found once that I had an emergency case and I called my staritz. And she heard me and she said, “I hang up”, and she hung up and I was furious, you know! I pulled out the phone!
Renate: You pulled the whole phone out?! [both laugh]
Miek: So, you know, the fight with your own emotions, and your own demons, is titanic!
Miek: And the stronger your personality, the stronger the fight. Sometimes it was horror!
Renate: And what did you do with…
Miek: Well, my staritz was like, “Well, that’s the point in the desert. Because of the silence…” We are, in the world, we are doing something with that. We are talking about it or we go in therapy, or we go in reading books about it, but being in silence also helps you – it’s like a padding, or a mousse, because of the silence it’s collapsed, it’s… there’s nothing left, you know? Because emotions is all so… it’s air, somehow.
Renate: Yeah, yeah.
Miek: And that’s also a fascinating phenomenon you make it as big as you want! In fact, it’s something like that [indicates tiny particle] sometimes.
Renate: It can only collapse if we don’t give it attention.
Miek: OK, yeah.
Renate: But as long as you are…
Miek: You talk about it and you reel it in, and so on, so… The silence is a certain wisdom. OK, it’s like a cloud which is passing and, OK, tomorrow you’ve forgotten the cloud and… ja.
Renate: You say, ‘and that shall pass’.
Miek: Yeah, yeah.
Renate: Don’t give it much attention. And did you feel, with this kind of practice, or guidance – in the non-guidance! –
Renate: – you became clearer?
Renate: In your emotions? So what happened to you?
Miek: Silence clears up a lot. Because it doesn’t judge, doesn’t interpret. It clears up a lot. Silence is healing.
Miek: It’s healing. It’s letting be… things, but it’s also not more and not less than that. So, yeah, I found it healing.
Renate: You said you also had instructions how to enter the silence and stay there. Can you tell us which…
Miek: Well, we had some traditional exercises, the exercises of Ignatius, that were, kind of, exercises, by the gospel and by symbols, to enter inside and to stay, to concentrate on a word or an image, and to keep there. And we got instructions about that. Yeah.
Miek: It helps me, the symbols. What we are talking about… it opens the consciousness, the symbols. The opening into the consciousness. And, for me, it was opening into –
Renate: Which kind of symbols are we talking about?
Miek: I don’t know. The Christian symbols: the cross, Christ, you know.
Renate: Right, yeah.
Miek: Images of the gospel. That kind of symbols.
Renate: So you were focusing on one of the symbols?
Renate: And with that, ja, in a way that is what a koan is about.
Miek: It’s a key to enter…
Renate: It’s a key to enter.
Miek: …into the inner landscape, the interior world.
Renate: And how could you stay there?
Miek: Well, if you concentrate on the symbol.
Renate: You hold the focus.
Miek: Hold the focus, yes, and then it’s the exercise, what I told you also, to stay there between falling asleep and losing the control.
Miek: So that area, that very small area…
Miek: …to stay there and that’s the exercise…
Renate: That small gap.
Miek: …to not lose control but not fall asleep.
Renate: It’s very tempting to fall asleep when you’re tired!
Miek: Yes, it is.
Renate: Ja. Do you feel you – I mean, you must have had such a passion and longing for this silence…
Miek: I gave up a lot, and I think my longing was so great, and I was so determined.
Renate: So, by then, did you connect the silence with God?
Miek: Yeah, for me it was the same. And it’s still the same. For me that’s God, you know.
Miek: That eternal silence, the great silence.
Renate: Ja, ja.
Miek: That’s God for me.
Renate: OK. So we come later to your actual experience, but let’s talk about what the demon of the 11th hour is. [both laugh]
Renate: Acedia, ja. That is hanging around.
Miek: For me, it would always be someone, I would like to say, someone hanging around. But formerly I didn’t know the name and, in the monastery, I learned to give it a name.
Renate: Mm hm.
Miek: And it is something which is with me in my actual life again.
Renate: Which is always present. With humans.
Miek: Yes, you are right. Boring, there are no challenges, there are no new things, and then acedia’s coming, you know?
Miek: And acedia is different than depression. Depression is something, it’s like a mental illness.
Renate: It’s like an apathy.
Miek: Well, acedia is more a... Acedia is no care… it didn’t care me.
Renate: Is it a type of laziness?
Miek: It’s a hardening, it’s a hardening of the heart, you know?
Renate: Hardening of the heart.
Miek: It’s like something [exhales dismissively] indifference, “It doesn’t interest me!”
Renate: “I don’t care.”
Miek: “I have a big car and it doesn’t interest me, anything”. You know. It’s acedia.
Renate: So when that came, what did you do?
Miek: For me, it is always also now when it comes. To find a way to go into my heart.
Miek: And it’s by my little child. My child is a key.
Renate: Your child. Your inner child.
Miek: Yes. I have some little photographs of my child, looking there, and when I think of it I’m coming in my heart. And then I feel uncertain emotion and [indicates release of tension] and then all that hardening, that indifference, also that bit of unsatisfied to it, which I still have sometimes, fall away from me.
Renate: They collapse.
Miek: Yes. It collapses.
Renate: Yeah. Yeah.
Miek: And then I’m in my heart and then it’s over, acedia’s away. Acedia doesn’t support the heart. Living by your heart, acedia doesn’t support it. It’s the monastic life, life of the monks and the nuns, is living by heart. And so there’s always that acedia, which is the great tempter.
But we live, nowadays, in a real acedia culture.
Renate: Is that so?
Renate: Yeah. We don’t care about the planet, we don’t care about the nature –
Miek: No, no! We want a bigger car, travel a lot, it’s indifference: ‘oh, the stupid people who have nothing, it’s their own fault!’
Renate: But it’s also a very narcissistic time.
Renate: You just think about yourself.
Miek: Yes. But that’s acedia at its top, you know?
Renate: Narcissism is acedia at its top. Oh right.
Miek: Yeah. It’s acedia which is not recognized. It’s complete indifference, hardening of the heart.
Renate: Well, you know the chart – what’s going to happen? [laughs]
Miek: With my life?
Renate: With our life! With the planet’s life.
Miek: Well, you have the mundane astrology and, of course, we are in a conjunction between Saturn and Jupiter on the fixed star, Algo, and the heads are throwing off. And that’s what’s happening in economical life, in financial life, in political life, in private life.
Miek: Everyone who’s not coherent, or not transparent [makes clicking noise and slicing motion across neck].
Renate: Their heads are rolling.
Miek: Yeah. What’s happening at this moment.
Renate: And what’s coming instead?
Miek: Well I see, also, a lot of air, so I think everything will go more quick. More quick, more global, but different. There will be a difference.
Renate: Are we going to survive?
Miek: [Raises hands to indicate not knowing]
Renate: We don’t know. Only consciousness survives.
Miek: With the eternal silence we continue, eh?
Renate: So Mondays was the desert day. It was a day just of meditation. So why Mondays desert day? Why was that so special?
Miek: In a monastery, the monks, also, a lot of organisation.
Miek: So nevertheless, I think half of the community was involved in the organisation. In the kitchen, guests, guesthouse, etc, etc. So that Monday everybody was in silence and solitude. Only one sister was occupying herself with the monastery and the guests, etc, and the kitchen. So it was, more than the other days, a day of complete silence and solitude, and I loved the Mondays, it was a really… You know, we also had no celebrations together, everything was in solitude and I found it lovely. I understood, also, the meaning of it because an organisation of a monastery is a lot of work and thinking also. When it is in silence a lot of pre-vision, yes planning, a lot of work here [indicates head] also. So it was good, OK, the one day there was really nothing.
Renate: So on all the other days you went into the church together…?
Miek: For a mass and a matin, yes, so the morning prayer.
Renate: You had prostrations there?
Renate: Throwing yourself on the floor.
Miek: Yes, yes.
Renate: And you liked that very much?
Miek: No, not a lot! [both laugh] It was more in the fasting time.
Renate: Which was around Easter?
Miek: Yes, and the 6 weeks before we had… the first 3 days of fasting there were hundreds of maitsenoyers – prostrations – and I hated it, you know, I hated it really. It was so the fitness centre! [both laugh]
Renate: Well that brings me to another question: Was there attention given to your body, to the wellbeing of your body? I was reading, which I find quite extraordinary, that the medicine which you were given when somebody was sick was homeopathy.
Miek: Ja. We really used homeopathy, and that worked very well because we didn’t drink coffee, we didn’t drink alcohol, so the homeopathy was working immediately.
Renate: Were they trained in homeopathy?
Miek: There were a few sisters who were known with it, and the staritz and a nurse sister. And then we were fed very natural medication…
Renate: Like herbs?
Miek: Like herbs and so on, like the time when I was –
Renate: But the best thing, Miek, was that you had some iron deficiency and this one nun told you to stick a nail into your boiling potato! Did that help?
Miek: Yes, very good.
Miek: Yes, really. So also we had the order to drink two litres of water, per day. We had to clean ourselves every day, to take a bath, a shower, in our hermit house. So, yes, there was a lot of attention for our health and hygiene, yes.
Renate: That’s good, ja, ja.
Miek: And, of course, we had a very good diet, all biological food, no meat. Fish, only fish, olives, herbs. And I know it was excellent. And I had been examined for a few months, I am now 52 and I have in fact the age of 36.
Renate: The biological age?
Renate: Wow! Well done.
Miek: So that’s down to 12 years such a healthy life.
Renate: Ja. Isn’t that amazing?
Renate: And also the silence, you know, the meditation…
Miek: Incredible, really.
Renate: Everything, the organs, everything rests and you get younger and younger. Time goes back, ja.
But there was still some vanity and you actually asked for a small mirror? [both laugh] I think you had a white robe?
Renate: Did you have to shave your hair?
Miek: No no no no no! We had to put it on… very long.
Renate: So you weren’t allowed to cut it.
Miek: We weren’t allowed to cut it. So sometimes when the sun was coming in the south of France and you were a bit…
Miek: …tanned… the clothing was much nicer of course and I said to my staritz, “Can I have a mirror, please?” [laughs] I got a little sharp bit.
Renate: Yes. And you looked every day?
Miek: Every day. [imitates trying to see herself in a tiny piece of mirror]
Renate: Did you like what you saw?
Miek: Oh yes, it wasn’t bad, you know. [laughs]
Renate: Well, it’s important there was still some femininity, somewhere.
Miek: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Renate: Did you actually form friendships? Did you ever have some eye contact with others?
Miek: No, no. Well, you had eye contact but friendship was absolutely discouraged because, only, our own focus was God. So it was absolutely not done. It was not encouraged.
Miek: When we were walking, we were asked always to walk as three, not as two. And, even with the staritz, the contact was always… I talked a lot of myself and she never talked anything about herself, I didn’t know anything of her.
Miek: It was really very strict, so friends together no, not at all.
Renate: You say in your book “convents are rays of light”.
Renate: You know, I was raised – it was a Lineriant, which is a big Catholic school and church, big movement in Austria. And, in my experience, they weren’t rays of light at all.
Miek: Well, I understand.
Renate: Sometimes I even had the feeling, you know, that there were really lives in the church. That was my experience.
Renate: I had to confess when I was 6 or 7 years old, my sins, and if I did something wrong they were really nasty. And they did not look happy.
Miek: No, I think that’s the difference, we had a real inner life, you know. Because of that silence and that solitude. The orphanages, the women you describe, they were teaching, they were in the world and then living a separate life a bit out of the world, in the world. Very busy, hardworking. I think – I don’t want to judge but I suppose not much inner life. You know, it’s very… it’s not very sane, you know, it’s different.
Miek: But we had a real, very… inner life. And I looked happy, also, in my photos, you know. When I see photos from my convent time, everybody says, “Miek, you are laughing, you are looking so happy!”
Miek: And I felt myself good there, real. Otherwise I wouldn’t have stayed there 12 years. I know myself and I feel very unhappy somewhere, I walk away.
Miek: That’s my type, yeah.
Renate: So then, after 9 years, being so disciplined, and meditate, and pray, and things, you had the big opening. A big epiphany. And, actually, you heard a sentence somewhere, somebody said a sentence of Aristotle…
Renate: …and the sentence was, “Actuality precedes potentiality”.
Renate: And, in the moment you heard that, what happened to you?
Miek: It was like I got a knock at my head and it was not really the meaning of the sentence but, for me, it was a complete understanding, but ‘understanding’ is not the right word, it was clear to me.
Renate: It was a knowingness.
Miek: It was a knowingness. A knowing of the mystery that I said, “Aah! That’s it!” It has been with me, that sentence, so strongly for 3, 4 months, you know? It was everyday. And it was for me a clear sight in the mystery. And I can’t explain it, it’s not an understanding, because understanding is with the head, it was something out of my heart, then, “That’s it!” I have heard that sentence so many times before, and it was also an understanding here, mental understanding, I thought ‘intelligent, interesting sentence, and I understand it’ – as you say I understand one and one is two – but at that time it was an understanding from here [indicates chest], I thought ‘oh my God! This is it!’ I can’t explain it!
Renate: And what did you see?
Miek: It was not a thing, it was not a feeling, it was something, it was a complete… divine understanding, yeah.
Renate: It was an understanding in the heart.
Miek: Yeah, it was something ‘OK, that’s what I am looking for my whole life’. It brought me here and that’s it. But when I’m going to explain it to you I lose the experience. You understand?
Renate: Ja, of course, because you cannot really talk about it.
Miek: Because it has nothing to do with mental signification.
Renate: No, no. Ja. Do you still feel this place inside?
Miek: Yes. When I talk about it, I explain it to you like that and I remember the moment so well: I came from the foundation of the yellow monastery, I had driven in the car and I was very stressed, and there was a study lesson into the monastery and I went, by accident, in that room and I heard that sentence. I will never forget it and I am still in that [sighs and moves hands expansively].
Renate: Would you call that enlightenment?
Miek: Yes, well, I’m not taught in a tradition where –
Renate: Yes, I understand.
Miek: – we talk about that like that. But I think yes.
Renate: Does the Christian tradition have a name for that?
Miek: Well the problem is… yeah, they call it ‘Unification with God’…
Miek: …’Unity with God’. But the problem is, the Christian tradition is always encoloured in a Catholic or in a Protestant Church…
Miek: …and they are not very encouraging these kind of experiences, as in talk, you know? Because they want to keep the people small and it’s a big organisation, you know?
Renate: Well they used to be burnt at the stake in the past…
Miek: Yes, so they want to keep the people like that [indicates smallness], so you are discouraged to talk about these kind of things. But of course it’s enlightenment, it’s an experience of –
Renate: So it was actually a shift in perception?
Miek: A complete shift and I was really a completely different person afterwards. And I know – I was standing in the chapel and we were celebrating liturgy, and I couldn’t say the words anymore out of my mouth, you know. I couldn’t say the singing anymore ‘my God, what’s happening with me?!’
Renate: Because it didn’t make sense?
Miek: My staritz said to me, “Sing please!” in the liturgy. I said, “I can’t sing anymore!” And it was not, you know, it was not something, unwillingness, no, it was so from here [indicates abdomen] out I couldn’t do it anymore. I was so… everything changed afterwards.
Renate: So this structure did not make any sense to you anymore?
Miek: No, I thought it was a nice colour, it was very… I needed this to come here and now it will hinder me.
Miek: Because the target is life, and it will keep me from life. So then I am, almost to myself, I have to leave this convent.
Miek: Then I will be honest and faithful to my task to live as a human being. I have to leave this place.
Renate: And it still took you two, I think, two years to leave it.
Miek: Yes, because I found it all so, you know, I thought ‘well, Miek, what’s happening?’ I didn’t understand it, I couldn’t talk about it difficultly, my staritz didn’t understand because I was someone there, I was founding another monastery, I had responsibilities, and I was always feeling myself well there. And then suddenly, you know…
Renate: It was displaced.
Miek: I needed to grow, on another level, to grow to the decision. I needed some time for it.
Renate: Ja, ja. And then your body was actually giving you signs.
Miek: Talking, you know, problems, illnesses. And I thought ‘Ja, this is a matter of life and death, you know?’ When I stay here I’m going to die, literally. I have to go, I have to choose for life. I have to be honest to myself.
Renate: Well, you know, then you did something very well, you said, “Well, I have to now bring my experience into the marketplace”.
Renate: And that was, actually, always Jesus’ teaching. It was about life and – what did he say? “I’m the bread of life”.
Miek: Yes, “the bread of life”. The gospel was interesting. After the experience, I read the gospel in a very different way, and then Jesus’ teachings are out of an experience of enlightenment, you understand?
Miek: And then it’s going all about life, nothing else. He’s not going about dogma and teachings, things like that. No, it’s all about life!
Renate: Is it the gospel of Thomas you are reading?
Miek: Exactly, yeah. That’s the most original sayings and also the… evangilium. Luke and Thomas is the most original, it’s all about that. And it’s a mystical, it’s an experience of enlightenment, if you talk in another language, you know?
Well, how was it to come back into the world?
Miek: Hard. As well as it was hard in the monastery, it was hard in the marketplace. It was a very, very hard way. People don’t understand the experience, they don’t understand the way.
Renate: Of course, you were still within a Christian community.
Miek: Well, my family. Not any more Christian but, you know, Western Europe has the Christian background, you know?
Miek: Even when people are not going to church anymore, that’s their model of the world, you know? So they are looking at these things from that model of the world.
Miek: So they are judging, interpreting things from that model of the world. So it was so difficult, you know. All those questions, stupid remarks. People are categorising you, you are silly… It was very hard to stay –
Renate: Well they tried to kill you?
Miek: Well, in fact they did, that’s what they did to Jesus, they did it to me too.
Renate: Yes, yes. In a way they tried to nail you on the cross.
Miek: Absolutely, absolutely. I believe that, absolutely, yeah.
Renate: Could you remain your focus in the world? And the practice?
Miek: Not in the way as I did it in the monastery and that was also a lesson, you know. I wanted to keep it as I had kept it in the monastery.
Miek: Then I was very disappointed that I couldn’t keep it as I kept it in the monastery.
Miek: Then I understood ‘Miek, that’s not the meaning. You have to do it now in another way. The focus, you don’t lose it, but you have to see it otherwise.’
Renate: Yes, yes.
Miek: It’s now during the day that I’m thinking of it in moments, and not maybe a fixed meditation time or… rituals, or what. During the day, thinking a little eye on it. I learned to do it in a different way, you know. That also took a time.
We only have a couple of minutes left and in your profession now, you are a guide into The Great Silence. So, actually, people can come to you and you are teaching The Great Silence. So what do you do with people?
Miek: In fact, the art is to do nothing.
Miek: And just being there. And I have learned that for me just being there, people are in The Great Silence.
Renate: Yeah. It’s always there, yeah.
Miek: And that, for myself, also sometimes still very astonishing. I always have to keep saying to myself ‘Miek, don’t do anything. It’s the art of being there, just being there’. And that’s what I do in my contemplation exercise, I’m going into silence with people but I’m not giving many directions, I’m not doing a lot of funny things or special exercises. I’m just being there, sitting there, giving them a lot of space, a lot of respect, but keeping their mouths [shut], that’s the only condition, and there I’m very strict. Keeping your mouth [shut], sitting, and eating, sleeping, keeping your mouth [shut], and being there.
It’s amazing what it is doing to people, and I’m very… for me it is also, you know, I’m an instrument. It’s too big for myself, you know, my personality.
Renate: Yeah. Are those retreats you are doing? When you say “sleeping” and “being there” and “eating there”?
Miek: The retreats, which are residential, you know, then I have 4 or 5 days of silence, contemplation basically, and they are mostly in a monastery or centre. But we keep our mouths [shut] during dinner, during the walks, etc.
Renate: Yeah, yeah.
Miek: Yeah, yeah.
Renate: Great. Well, I’m afraid we have to finish now. Are you happy with yourself, with life?
Miek: Well, happy is a… it’s like the word ‘God’, it’s such a big word and… In general, I feel myself in harmony, I feel myself in focus. I’m also grateful for my life.
Renate: Sure, yeah.
Miek: Grateful for the way that it’s my way and that I did it my way. And so that’s a better word I think: grateful. It’s now a time, also, for gratefulness.
Renate: Yeah. Mm. Good.
Well, thank you, Miek. Thank you for coming all the way to be with us. I just wanted to mention your book again, so this is the book in German, which is called: ‘In der Stille Hörst Du Dich Selbst’, then there is a Dutch book…
Miek: ‘Naar Het Hart van Mijn Ziel’ ‘De Grote Stilte’.
Renate: OK. And the English version, which will come out, hopefully soon, is called: ‘Into the Heart of my Soul’. And I guess people can check that on your website, when it’s out?
Miek: Yes, of course.
Renate: Well, great talking to you and learning all about Carthusians – I was always fascinated by this order, myself, but never made it. But you never know!
Miek: Yeah. [both laugh]
Renate: You never know what’s written in your blueprint.
Miek: Life book, yeah!
Renate: Exactly, yeah.
OK. Well, thank you for watching Conscious TV. And thank you again, Miek. And I’ll see you again soon. Bye bye.
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