I heard a priest call it “the last paradise in Quezon City”.
One look at the organic farm, the green cottages, and the lush garden, and you will understand that even this compliment is an understatement to the simple majesty of mother nature in this place. The birds sing in the morning, the wind blows at night… And most of the time, you can even hear your breath or your heart beat. A pin drop from meters away can be heard because of the SILENCE.
And it’s not the creepy type of silence, because it is the silence that heals and brings the best out of souls that want to get away from the hustle, bustle, and stress of the fast-paced city. (Yes, dear reader, take a good look because it actually still EXISTS in NCR. And you know you want to…)
I was in the midst of my life’s utter ground zero before entering the familiar and loving silence preserved in Notre Dame de Vie Retreat House in Susano Road, Novaliches, Quezon City. It came to a point where the noise of my usual surroundings became too unbearable and I wanted to flee to the desert of the spirit to renew myself and make sense of things. I just knew that I had to leave. And the moment I recognized my need, I knew that this was the only place I can go to.
It is about two rides away from where I live, more accessible than the retreat houses that are famously found in places outside Metro Manila like Tagaytay, Laguna, or Baguio. I first discovered this tiny gem, this patch of paradise inside NCR, in 2011 when I was doing some genuine soul searching. Since then, it became a bit of an emergency go-to place when I need to experience some silence or a comforting form of semi-hermitage where I can center myself.
The need for the desert experience came up at a time that I did not expect. Nonetheless, I threw in all my resources and cast my physical self into the deep to help my poor and almost dying soul. So I took an FX from SM North going to Novaliches Bayan and then took a tricycle. I told the tricycle driver to take me to Mother of Life Center, the English translation of the French community name Notre Dame de Vie. This institute held a special place for me because I took basic French lessons in college and I get a kick out of translating to keep my foreign language knowledge slightly functional at the least.
I walked the beautiful pathway up to the retreat house building. And flashbacks of the years past emerged in my mind. Just by going past the gate, the place already transported me to a place of calm. This place is completely blessed with that gift of silence. Our Mother of Life, indeed, made sure that I felt her embrace in the silent breeze and the fresh air.
And once again, I was that nervous young woman ringing the doorbell twice so that I can get my sanity and my soul back…
Reserving Slots and Scheduling for ALL Types of Retreat Seekers
Some congregations had schedules for their retreat. They usually lump you with other retreat seekers. Some are able to maintain silence. But you will be compelled and tempted to talk to people when you are with them. There are some people who really need to take time with God and depart from interacting with the world. I usually go to Opus Dei center retreats but my needs could no longer wait. It was a spiritual emergency, so to speak. Since I just literally ran off to the retreat house, I did not know what to expect. That’s the caveat of not going on a scheduled retreat.
All I knew was that I needed to get away, that I needed this silence and this entire week to think things through. I entered on a Tuesday night. I made reservations through Miss Amie, the woman in charge of the retreat seekers. I texted her at her number (09189640851 or the landline 9368612), the one she maintained for years. You can click this link to check for the rates and the facilities.
They hold retreats for groups or institutions. They also accept family retreats and couple retreats. And most of all, for my purposes, they accept PERSONAL SEEKERS who do not wish to be disturbed. You can be ensured a good slot if you give at least 2-3 days’ notice of your arrival…. I entered at the night before Ash Wednesday and left only this afternoon… They asked for my food allergies and food preferences, my need for Sacraments or counseling sessions from their chaplain. I asked for a full overhaul of my spiritual self and sought counseling and all the possible Sacraments I can get a hold of in my 4-day stay.
Pretty soon, I had my own room. I was fortunate enough that there were no other retreat seekers when I entered. The groups started coming in on my third day. Basically, I had the entire building and facilities all to myself for almost 3 straight days. They assigned me to a room on the second floor. There are around 77 rooms or so. And I had a bed big enough for me to sleep comfortably with a nice study table and a large window by the foot of the bed.
The place was large enough to accommodate groups at the same time. They have conference rooms but I did not have to use it because it was just me. I took a tiny slot in the corner of the dining hall when I am taking my meals. They have a complete set of meals with foods or produce coming directly from their organic farm.
Helen Mary, Full of Favors and Facilities
It had everything I wanted in a personal silent journey: my own room with bathroom, a reading room, a cottage where I can commune with nature, and a simple but beautiful chapel where I can say my prayers. I got to attend the Daily Masses. I got to talk to a priest for two hours about my life (I was just lucky that he made time!).
And because I entered at the eve of Lent, I managed to see the burying of the Hallelujah and the ritual of burning the ashes. And these same ashes were placed on our foreheads in the morning Mass of Ash Wednesday. All this while, they explained most of the steps and it was so meaningful, solemn, and beautiful.
I know it may sound a little selfish to want all these facilities to myself but sometimes, you need to give yourself something if you have been deprived of it for so long. I had lived in noise for almost 3 years for survival, to the extent that I was dying in it. It was high time to revisit silence.
All around the silent enclosure, there were signs that remind me of the value of silence and the points of meditation. I also bought a book that condensed the practical nuances of Carmelite spirituality.
At night, the silent retreat staff members invited me warmly to pray with them in their Evening Prayers. They made me more of an active observer to or guest participant in their Community.
With groups they had some programs especially during scheduled Advent and Lenten overnight recollections. But since I specified explicitly that I wanted some alone time, they did not force me to do anything I did not want. They just let me pop in to their activities and prayers. Unfortunately, I missed the Stations of the Cross because I fell into a deep sleep.
I enjoyed the Evening Prayers the most. I can imagine them singing it even now while I am typing this up. It was such a majestic way to end a day in a person’s life; most people are now just content popping in front of the television without some form of reflection of where the day went and how it went and what it means. Sometimes, that simple gesture of ending the day with your loved ones in prayer is just more magical than any fun TV show.
Divine Silence and the Sweet Community of Lay Contemplatives
One of the brothers played the guitar and the women’s sweet voices serenade God in the heart of the silence. These are one of the few precious times that you hear something in this silence. It is a magical experience hearing guitar music and loving voices lifting themselves up in prayer together:
Deriving from the precepts of Carmelite contemplative spirituality, the community and retreat house staff practice silence in working as a form of welcoming the Divine Presence. Part of this originated in the Old Testament when God showed Himself to Elijah:
“And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave.”
1 Kings 19:11-13
God is in the gentle breeze. God speaks in a still, small voice…
God is not a God of ostentation but He lives in the soul when you are silent and ready and waiting for Him…
I looked at my brothers and sisters in this retreat. They are so simple and austere with their lives. But they sing with so much love. I instantly fell in love with them. In their faces, you will see JOY. I was filled with the Love that filled them, and I loved them for that.
And I felt ashamed for those times that I amassed way more possessions but I never got to manufacture or elicit the joy on their faces. I felt ashamed for the times I neglected the silence that I used to cultivate fairly well when I was young and idealistic in college.
But the retreat showed me one thing: I can still start over. And the community of Notre dame de Vie, who lives to welcome the sunrise and the sunset with prayer, is a living example of how each person can start over if he or she opens up his or her heart to the Love that awaits to be shared.
Their lives, their existence, and the whole quiet atmosphere cultivated at Notre Dame de Vie Retreat House unveiled more about me and about my life more than online psychology quizzes, other people’s assessments of me, my curriculum vitae, and my possessions…
I had the fatal habit of running around in my life in circles like a hamster. I googled psychology quizzes, read a bunch of books, asked a lot of people…
In there, I stopped running, I sat still in the Chapel, and I just looked. And in those limited moments of silently looking inside, I saw what I had to do, why things had to happen in the way they did, and who I am. I no longer waxed lyrical about my misfortunes.
I shed a few tears here and there but I spent it mostly on just keeping myself silent. The tears were mostly tears of healing and restoration of my broken soul.
I no longer needed to run around or drown myself in temporary fixes because all I needed to do was just to sit still and listen to what my soul has been telling me all along.
Everyone needs silence even though the rest of the world may promote otherwise.
Some people are afraid of the silence because it will bring about disturbing thoughts and ideas.Some people need to fill themselves with noise because silence is scary or boring or just not worth their time.
During my first two days at this paradise, I had difficulty wrestling with the noise. The bigger problem was not the noise of the city that I got used to, but the noise from within me that are accumulated from years of minimal high-quality introspection.
There are volumes of realizations from this 4-day retreat than 3 previous years of my noisy life.
After that initial turbulent time of transitioning from noisy survival mode to silent solitude mode, I acquired a peace of mind that I never had in the last few years. It was the peace of mind I had years ago that I thought I will never have again. I am once again centered and renewed with resolutions…
Money cannot buy peace of mind. Prior, I was earning but I was working too hard to earn it… It was the first time in years that I actually got to stop, pause, and reset myself. It’s like a reboot of my entire being.
And all that pain from trying too hard slowly closed into scars that don’t hurt, healed by the balm of the gentle breeze.
After all this, I felt like I am ready to slowly go back to the noisy world with a new perspective.
Certainly, this is not going to be the last time that I will visit this paradise. 🙂
I spent a little compared to the large amount of benefits derived from this personal endeavor. Some people even pay for hotel reservations and plane tickets to go some place and they never find what they are looking for. I am blessed to find that the paradise I was looking for is just an FX ride or two away. It’s a bargain for every NCR dweller. It’s one of the best retreat houses in Metro Manila for personal seekers.
Notre Dame de Vie Retreat House
123 Susano Road, Bo. San Agustin
Novaliches 1117, Quezon City
Telefax: (02)936-8612 and look for Miss Amie