Quiet Day at Mission San Luis Rey

It's Fall Break time for this school year. Typically, I get two weeks of vacation. But because of Covid-19, the school year started later and the Fall Break was shortened to a week. 

Since my kids are not on the same school schedule as me (even in non-Covid times), my Fall Break is usually a time I do some serious self-care. Massages, shopping, and movies are some of the things I'd so to occupy my time while the kids were at school. But now, we're all at home and many of the things I'd typically do are not safe to do or I'm not comfortable doing at this time. 

At my husband's urging, he wanted to me to go do something for myself. I Googled "san diego retreat" and the "Quiet Day" at the Mission San Luis Rey showed up. Having been to Mission San Luis Rey before, I was curious. 

The website said, "Spend a day away from it all! Take a day to unplug from your cell phone and emails. Bring your journal, a book to read, meditate in the beautiful, private gardens or the St. Clare Retreat Chapel, take a nap... this is your day to relax and unwind." For $35 I would have a private room, access to the gardens and chapel, and a lunch too. I thought it would be a great way for me to unplug, get away from the TV and the news, and just be quiet and still for the day. I made my reservation online for two days later. 

The drive to San Luis Rey from home was nice. I arrived at the Mission San Luis Rey Retreat Center a little after 9AM. I was given a key to my room, a map, and a few instructions for the day. I grabbed a few pamphlets at the entrance which helped guide my activities for the day. 

I headed down a long hallway and passed dozens of rooms. All the doors were open, each had two twin beds with a simple blue quilt on each. My room was half way down the long hallway. My room looked just like the dozens I passed with a sink and mirror, and a closet with some linens inside. 

I sat on the bed, looked over the map and pamphlets to plan my day. I set my phone on “do not disturb” and “silent”. I carried my phone around with me all day for the camera. I promise, I did not look at texts, calls, or social media all day. I’m proud of myself!

Outside the hallway of retreat rooms, it a courtyard and garden I admired on my way to St. Claire’s Chapel. No one was in the chapel, it was dark except for the open windows letting in the sunshine. I turned on the lights and ceiling fans, and found a seat near the front. I spent about an hour there, praying and meditating. I had the chapel all to myself. Occasionally I’d hear a lawn mower and other garden tools from the staff outside, other than that, I was quiet. 

After the chapel, I explored the grounds a little more. I’d walk by grounds keepers and hospitality staff occasionally. Everyone was very nice.

 I found myself at the labyrinth at the northeast part of the mission grounds. The circular labyrinth was a maze like path made of rocks. The path of the labyrinth let to the center of the circle. The pamphlet I had provided a guided mediation as one walks the labyrinth. Walking into the labyrinth, are are to “release on the way in, receive at the center, and on the way out, take out what you have received”. I used this time to have a conversation with Jesus, to talk to him about what was on my mind and to ask for guidance.

Right next to the labyrinth was the Stations of the Cross. I had another handy pamphlet to guide me since I had not prayed the Stations of the Cross by myself before. The stations went down a long pathway, lined with trees. The breeze would loosen the leaves and they’d rain down on me as I proceeded down the pathway.  At each station, I’d say the prayer recalling the passions of Jesus, then pray for whoever came to mind. Again, I was all alone physically, yet hoping Jesus was listen to my prayers. 

I then headed back to my room to grab my journal and book to read. I sat in the outdoor corridor near the rose garden to journal and read a bit then I headed to the lounge for a cup of coffee. Inside the lounge, there was the first non-staff person I’ve seen all day, at a table working on a laptop.  I found a seat outside in the shade to continue to journal. I could hear the fountain and every 15 minutes the church bells would ring. An elderly man with a cane passed by, waved hello, and did two laps around the courtyard, then disappeared into one of the doors. I assume he’s one of the Franciscan Friars who reside at the mission. 

By this time, it was noon and time for lunch. I proceeded to the Dining Room. There was one-way in and one-way out to help with social distancing. When I entered the Dining Room, one of the staff was ready with my tray of food. This is the time I realized I was the only retreat attendee on the grounds for the day. I asked the staff if I was the only one being fed, he confirmed I was the only attendee for the day. I sat in the dining room big enough for for over 100 people. Lunch was a tuna salad, side of bread, and two cookies, one white chocolate macadamia, the other oatmeal. They had a juice and coffee fountain. The mango juice was yum! I sat in silence, read and ate. 

After lunch, I went to the old mission church which was not open for prayer. The doors were open to light a candle and to look into the church, but because of Covid, it was closed for mass and personal prayer. You could hear the friars chanting. I wish I could have sat in the church and listen to the chants. 

I was unable to take a photo so here is one from www.CaliforniaThroughMyLens.com

Adjacent to the old mission church was the San Luis Rey Cemetery. It is the oldest cemetery in north county San Diego. Again, I had a pamphlet to help guide me through the cemetery. The cemetery pilgrimage pamphlet had a map of all the statues and shrines, along with a prayer or meditation to go along. My favorite part of the cemetery were the wind chimes on the trees. A few times, I’d sit on the available benches under the trees and listen to the wind chimes and the near by fountains. It was nice to see a few more people enjoying the cemetery grounds. An elderly couple walked by and the man said, “Isn’t it a wonderful cemetery? It’s the most beautiful.”

At this point it was past 2pm. I was ready for a nap. I went back to my room for a nap for about an hour. My nap was comfortable, the ceiling fan kept the room cool. The quiet in the room was a bit too quiet, I thought to play some music on my phone, but then I remembered, it was a “quiet retreat”. My nap was nice and recharging. 

To end my day, I headed back to the St. Claire’s Chapel, to pray and meditate. This time no sounds of lawnmowers but lots of birds chirping. 

As a retreat attendee, I had free entry into the mission museum. Because I’ve been there before, I decided to visit if I ran out of things to do. I ended up not having the time to visit the museum. 

By 3:30pm, I was back in my room, gathering my things. Plastic bags were provided to place my linens and towels before I left my room. I dropped my keys off at the front office and waived at the staff inside one of the offices at retreat center entrance. 

I was a bit worried the time would drag while I was at the retreat center, which was not the case. The time went by faster than I thought. I’ve been telling myself I would’ve liked to see a few more retreaters, not that I wanted to interact with anyone, I really wanted to practice “quiet”. But I would’ve like to share the space with a few more people. Yet, it was nice to be alone. I’m hardly alone like I was at the retreat center, for that amount of time. It was a bit uncomfortable being so alone and quiet, only because I’m not used to it. 

Photo from San Diego Union Tribune

I would recommend the Mission San Luis Rey Retreat Center to anyone who wants quiet. They allow you to be on your devices if need be, you just have to be quiet. If you need a quiet place to work, this is a perfect place. I didn’t realize how much “noise” I had in my daily life: TV, cellphone, sharing a home with 3 others, video work meetings, work phone calls, and device notifications all day. At the retreat center, there was none of that. It was a good day.