THE MONASTERY MOVES – new residency program

The Monastery just moved out of Brussels and into the pleasant village of Solwaster (near Spa) at the entrance of the Ardennes. The house is situated within the village, which is surrounded by forests and quiet. We start up a new residency program here: you are welcome to join The Monastery every month for a week for monastic practice. Following the schedule, meditating together, doing body work and breathing, with plenty of time for self-study and work.

The upcoming dates for the residencies are:




Hope to be able to welcome you here!


2-8/3, 4-10/5, 25-31/5, 22-28/6/2020

The Monastery is a place for contemplation, reflection, meditation and recharging. Previously a full-time living community, the Monastery now opens the doors at set times during the year for intensive meditation weeks in residence. If you are interested in taking a little break from life-as-usual and want to open up your body and mind to experience more fully, with more breath and distance, at once more intimate and more detached, then feel welcome to come and join us.

Photo by Samuel Silitonga on

A usual monastic day looks like this:

7.00: breathing and first meditation

8.00: movement practice

9.00: breakfast

10.00: personal study time

12.00: lunch preparation

12.30: lunch

13.30: creative meditation (voice, dance, drawing,…)

14.30: individual meditation time or work time (for the monks)

17.30: sitting meditation

18.30: dinner preparation

19.00: dinner

20.30: closing of the day reflection and meditation

21.30: silence


Where: Studio La Limite, rue de la Limite 93, 1210 Brussels

When: 2-8/3, 4-10/5, 25-31/5, 22-28/6/2020. Starting on Monday at 9am, ending with a meditative walk on Sunday morning

Food: vegan, we cook together

Price: donation, recommended donation for the whole week: 250 euro


open door dinner for everyone who wants to join…

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We would like to make it a weekly habit: to lay the table for people who would like to just sit down for a nice dinner after work, and meet some new people. We take care of the food, but let us know if you come at the latest Wednesday morning before 10AM.
The after-dinner meditation (at 8pm) is optional…

Hope to see you soon!

BARDO STATES – exhibition and performance

14 to 23 March, ZSenne Art Gallery Brussels (Anneessensstraat 2, 1000 Brussel

The Monastery invites you to dive into the Bardo States: liminal moments between living and dying, in or out of your body, where you balance on the edge of the unknown. The Monastery goes DIY (Do It Yourself): in the performative video installations, you can prepare yourself to leave the body, aided by the monks. Twice a day the monks also initiate the rituals themselves and organize a wake for the monk who is buried alive.

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Bardo States are states of transition. When you move out of one situation but have not yet arrived in the other. In Tibetan Buddhism, after the physical body dies, we still travel for a long period of time through the Bardo, meeting up with our fears, losses, attachments and grief in the form of demons (or gods) and possibly even torturous events. But in our daily lives as well (which itself is a Bardo state between birth and dying) there are several moments in which decisions for change announce themselves, but we are not yet ready to move on and let go.

In the Bardo you confront what it is that prevents you from moving on. The demons lurking in the crevices of the mind and body. The anxieties that keep you hostage. The good intentions that prevent you from exploring your juicy insides/insights. The idea of a ‘good life’ that is stifling your creative juices. The concept of our selves that is harnessing our vitality, creating habits and obstacles on the way. Truths and convictions. Certainties and expectations. Reducing the space of life to the size of a handkerchief.

Going through the Bardo is a process of cleaning up the shit. Or, to put it like my teacher once did, to put your head down the toilet. It is surprising how refreshing that can be. The return full of lightness and potential. Coming out of the ground (as the monks literally do) is a moment of reset. Not only because you are no longer weighted down by what was bothering you, but even more so because you overcame the weight already while being under.


BARDO STATES, Zsenne Art Gallery, 14-23/3, 10 to 20h. Live Burial ritual and Excavation ritual: 14-20/3 at 12pm and 6pm.



To surrender completely, to get lost in your laughter, to be taken over by intense sadness or exuberant joy, to be without shame, to embrace your inner wildness. Some of these skills we’ve lost in childhood. we were hurt and decided never to get hurt again.  We were punished and decided to avoid future punishment. We learned to suppress some of our most vital energies. They became secret, locked away together with your dark and destructive desires.

Screen Shot 2018-09-06 at 18.59.46Continue reading “SHADOW WORK WORKSHOP”

Pilgrimage for adolescents at risk


As a pilgrim, you leave behind your daily life and become temporarily homeless. Free from expectations and duties, you can observe your old life. Every day is simple and has a clear goal. There are no choices to be made. Your body follows a path that thousands of pilgrims have gone before you. Your mind is free to rethink, redesign, revive old dreams, and surrender to absurd thoughts. There is space for silence, sharing, an open mind and a fresh breeze that blows right through you.

We walk the via Monastica throughout Belgium, from Postel to Dinant. More information about this route you find here.  We will sleep in hostels, monasteries, B&B’s, or outside if the weather allows.


October 13 through 21, but you can also join for a few days. We’ll let you know at what train station we will pick you up. Below a suggested planning (that may still be changed):

za 13/10: Abdij Postel – Sint-Hubertuskerk (Balen-Hulsen), 20,9 km
zo 14/10: Balen-Hulsen – Norbertijnenabdij Tongerlo, 20,75km
ma 15/10: Tongerlo – Diest, Halve Maan, 25,7 km
di 16/10: Diest, Halve Maan – Budingen fietsknooppunt 192, 21,85 km
wo 17/10: Budingen – Hélécine, voormalige Norbertijnenabdij, 20,95km
do 18/10: Hélécine -Jodoigne, RAVeL 2/Rue de Piétrain, 11,25km
vr 19/10: Jodoigne – Namen, St.-Jakobskerk, 33km
za 20/10: Namen-Dinant, Abdij van Leffe, 28km
zo 21/10: Return to Sint-Joost-ten-Node, Brussel


Cognitively and creatively able youngsters (age 14 though 25) with existential questions, that have a hard time finding their paths through school, studies, or life. Or that struggle with themselves and would like to take some time off to rethink who they are and what they want.

Participants must be able to walk 25 km per day with a backpack.

What do I bring?

Good walking shoes, a light backpack, a waterproof jacket, a pocket knife, a torch, a bowl and a spoon.

How much will it cost?

If you walk the entire route, you pay 600 euros (this is all inclusive). Otherwise you can roughly count 60 euros per day you are joining.

How to enroll?

Send us an email ( and tell us something about yourself and your motivation to participate. Also include what days you would like to join. Priority will be given to those that join the entire route. There are five spots.


This pilgrimage is organized by monk Stijn. Click here for more information about him.

Deep monastery


Do you need a moment to breath? To disconnect from an overwhelming life? Do you want to deepen your spiritual path or take some time to think about where you’re headed? Come and join us for some days of deep monastic practice. Surrender to a schedule of meditation, study, and work. Your mind can forget about the practicalities of life, and just dance freely to the core of life.

A typical monastic day:


STUDY: you can join the reading of the monks, pick a book from our library, or bring your own books or texts. WORK: working in the garden, designing and trying out new rituals, calligraphy, etc.

COST: Free contribution. You can give some money, bring some food, repair the dryer, or find another way you’d like to contribute.

DATES: Let us know you want to come, and we can arrange dates.

If you want to join, please send an email to and we’ll send you more information.

We look forward to welcoming you here!

Prayer for Queer Practice

QUEER SPIRITUALITY – or how to undo the Great Divide

I am reborn in You
No One, No I, no Truth
(mantra of The Monastery)


To curve the plane of daily reality. To create holes in the surface of the everyday. So you can breathe a little more freely. To suspend judgment indefinitely. To vibrate in the paradox, without the need for a solution. In the Monastery we practice queering up reality: to let go of the dichotomies and categorisations that hold our lives hostage.

The daily rhythm is about creating space. About freeing up time from the confines of work, of accumulation, of identity building. To free up love from the confines of marriage or polyamory, the One or the Many.

We call it a transspiritual practice. There is no religious dogma ruling life. There is no Transcendence, only transendences, as Bruno Latour points out. Only things, big and small, that simultaneously reach out and escape us. Are available and resistant. And in that movement lies there grace.

The redistribution of the Divine, or Space, of Life. No longer a capital possession of rules and truth, copyrighted by law or religion. But a free license to feel for all. To undo the confines of habit and prescription. Falling backwards into Original Intimacy. Or the Shit of Life.

In expansion, we become the world. And the world speaks through us. In all its love and violence, grace and rape, war and beauty. Without judgment we are free to act out. Whatever is given to us. In the bow of a lifetime.

Whan the surface of the everyday gets pierced through, the juices start to flow, and the world appears in all its alienation. Uncanny. Things are still there, habits still in place, but the causal chain of their unfolding is broken. Taking a cup no longer means drinking a coffee, but becomes an event in itself. An opening towards the Intimacy of life. A moment of lostness in the middle of everything you know.

To get there we move from a gender politics to a spiritual ethics of being-in-and-with. Undividing the divided, until a space unfolds that is both familiar and unreal. A fictional reality more real than the narratives shaping it.

We resist by surrendering. By falling through the holes of the grid. Space unfolds, the I gets lost, finally going nowhere.

Interview with a monk on queer spirituality and other matters…

The Monastery Escapes The Dictatorship Of Critique

In this ritual-themed season, Kaaitheater is not only welcoming artists. For example, the spiritual urban community The Monastery is coming to the Kaaistudios four times. You are invited to discover the monastic life, for one ritual or for an entire day. But what exactly is the monastic life? Why is a spiritual community coming to a theatre? And what role do rituals and spirituality still play in our society, if any? Time for a profound conversation with monk Elle.

You have had a very varied career, with a background in jazz, philosophy, and performance studies, and as a critic and the founder of the a.pass advanced Master’s and PhD programmes in the arts. How did you become a member of The Monastery?


The Monastery is principally the result of an encounter between two people with the same unusual desire to found a monastery, Stijn Smeets and me. My career as the coordinator of a.pass and as an artistic researcher was originally concerned with different ways of thinking about what the political ‘we’ might mean nowadays. My research – conducted under the title ‘Bureau d’Espoir’ – aimed to explore different ways of creating hope in society, by bringing together very diverse influences without a preconceived plan or guiding ideology.

I was looking for a way to create movement in our social fabric, not so much as the synchronized movement of individuals, but more as a swarm that comes together and constantly reorganizes itself through time. Through this exploration of hope, I discovered a path that diverged from the idea that things can be distinguished between being ‘meaningful’ and ‘valuable’ or not.

My background is in the performance and dance world. What the body is and how it works are important questions in that context. When I started researching spiritual practices that focus on the body, I wanted to know how the technology of the body – how do I breathe, how do I move, how am I physically and energetically linked to the other? – can help to create mental space and movement, in order to generate hope.

Rooted in that idea, I decided simply to accept everything that was presented to me as a spiritual practice for a year. These spiritual practices – and especially Tantra – became increasingly important to me. At the end of my tenure at a.pass, I collaborated with the workspace Bains Connective to organize ‘The Mobile MNSTRY’, a workshop focused on monastic practice in public space, in and around the Abbey of Vorst. This brought the discrepancy between my critical-artistic work at a.pass and my spiritual practice into sharp relief. Incidentally, I met Stijn at The Mobile MNSTRY, and that is where we outlined our first plans for The Monastery.

Wherein do you think the discrepancies between the artistic-intellectual and the spiritual lie?

I started my career as a critic. My work centred around having a critical perspective on contemporary experimental art and artistic research. Making distinctions, highlighting differences, the discourse on power, queerness, gender, who speaks in which way from which position… After ten years at a.pass, that critical approach became more of a restriction than an inspiration.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, art has been in a kind of constant feedback loop, an echo of critique on critique, of self-reflection and undermining. In this critical age, things like beauty, harmony, and originality are far from self-evident. Something always has to counteract them. Although I also chose a spiritual path centred on confrontation, I had the impression that artists were not the only people hindered by the dictatorship of criticism, and that I could no longer grow as a person.

Take the music that we make at The Monastery, for example. It does not comply with certain artistic values and I would never listen to it myself. But it works in the rituals in which we create community together, to make connections and to move into another state of being.

Have you made a radical break with the art world or are there elements that have found their way into your spiritual practice?

I wanted to think of it as a radical break, but I often hear that there are quite a few similarities between The Monastery and a.pass. We both have horizontal organizational structures, trans-spiritualties, queerness of practice, the absence of a leading figure… (laughs) I am still conducting my research into what constitutes a community or a ‘we’. How do you create a community in which possibilities can flourish? It is actually about aesthetics: how do you organize your time and space, and what kind of ethic produces that aesthetic?

Just like the a.pass researchers follow their path, the monks at The Monastery operate based on their own convictions. This differentiates us from a regular monastery. There is no doctrinal truth and content-wise, everything is open: your beliefs can be whatever you want them to be. We share a practice of spiritual routine: of sitting, singing, dancing, and discussing. You notice that a community quickly falls apart when you start debating truths and untruths. I think any spiritual explanation of what ‘it’ is, is problematic. I think it’s fine to skirt around them and set goalposts, but you have to be able to move the goalposts. They are aids, not truths.

You just mentioned that The Monastery is trans-spiritual, but what inspired that? Are there any specific movements or schools that influence you?

We started from our experiences of monastic places. Stijn comes out of a Christian monastic tradition, but clashed with certain church doctrines. My experience was mostly of the Buddhist monastery of the Vietnamese monk Thích Nhất Hạnh in Bordeaux, a mindfulness practice centre. But I had great difficulty with the negation of the body and sexuality. That is how I discovered the tantric path, in which the body is integrated into spirituality. Our practices are a combination of these traditions, but there are also other influences like shamanism or Sufism. Each new resident or monk can also propose new practices.

What is an average day like at The Monastery, and how many monks do you have?

Our day always starts at 6 AM and ends after the evening ceremony around 10 PM, after which everyone is silent until after breakfast the next day. Stijn and I are the only two full-time monks who have taken vows. We currently have three long-term residents who have not taken vows but who do want to live in a spiritual context. We sometimes also have residents who want to come for a short period. Many of them are going through difficult periods in their lives, such as a burn-out or divorce. Their primary focus is on healing.

The monks are absolutely not allowed to miss the morning and evening rituals. In the morning we do body practice, a tea ceremony, sitting meditation, and karma yoga. The evening rituals consist of reading primary sources, reflecting on the day, etc. The long-term residents join us for these rituals.

We also have study and work periods. As a monk, you spend this time in a way that corresponds as much as possible to your monastic practice. Study time means that you train yourself in your specific practice or read texts related to your spirituality. It can be very broad. Work periods are devoted to work for the community. Stijn works with cognitively gifted children and young people at the university in Leuven, which is his service to the community. It isn’t always easy because you have to negotiate the logic of a very different kind of institution. I chose to work exclusively within The Monastery, such as in my Tantra practice and workshops. When I am outside, I work in name of The Monastery.

You have appeared at the Kaaistudios twice before this season, for the seasonal switches, and you are coming back for two more sessions. Why did you accept the Kaaitheater’s invitation?

We talked for a long time about whether returning to an artistic institution would make sense for us. I found it confusing to be confronted with the critical gaze again, which I have let go. Stijn thought of it primarily as a way to give The Monastery more oxygen. And to reach people who might otherwise never consider entering a monastery. I am ultimately very happy with our decision. We worked very hard on the rituals, with new music, texts, and forms. We would otherwise never be able to make so much time to work for The Monastery creatively.

It has also led to interesting situations. For example, Robin is a mindfulness practitioner, with scientific and cognitive interests. I am a Tantra practitioner. How you practice, speak to people, work with imagination, or where you situate your work sometimes makes a world of difference to us. On the surface, we agree on most things, but once you zoom in on the technology of the body, you notice that different practices do actually correspond to different worldviews and anthropologies. That is precisely the challenge that we seek to explore: to what extent can spiritual practice offer a solution to the dualist thinking of good and bad, right and wrong, valuable and worthless. And at what point do judgements sneak in by the backdoor anyway?…

On 9 and 10 March, The Monastery is coming back to the Kaaistudios as part of WoWmen! What can we expect this time?

We are making a combination of the celebration of spring and the queerness of practice. Tantric practices often focus on the polarity of male and female energy, but there is relatively little interest in gender politics or queerness. Interestingly enough, ancient tantric texts never mention the differences between men and women, but focus on energies and ontological powers. Some conservative ideas have thus found their way into Tantra, which I address critically. Incidentally, I do not only deal with this subject in the WoWmen! session: I am also giving a series of workshops on female archetypes at The Monastery’s home base, for women, men, and those who have left such training far behind. In classic tantric practices, this is not easy because you need an equal number of men and women to work as couples. We are happy to break through this gender stereotyping, but it can sometimes be difficult for the participants.

The Monastery @ Kaaitheater – 9&10/3


The Monastery is returning to the Kaaistudios – which has become a familiar environment – for a special, two-day event. This time, A-LIFE combines the celebration of spring with the queerness of practice during an experimental monastic happening for women, men, and those who have left this binary far behind. Expect a monastic day in silence – with the occasional rave – in which you deconstruct and deepen the aesthetics of the monk.

All info and tickets here:

Interview with monk Elle here: