As our fellows are continuing their ELP journey, we want to share with you some of their thoughts and reflections about the first months of ELP eighth’s cohort. Therefore, the questions we asked the fellows are ‘What are your thoughts on the programme so far? Did anything in particular capture your interest?’
The impact of living together with your peers is what, in my experience, most stands out. As we started our ELP adventure at the beginning of October, for all 19 of us, a new period in our lives had begun- especially for the 12 first-year students who had just moved to Brussels for the first time and started the next phase of their professional journey.
Of course, living together also brings difficulties because you have to consider others around you. However, living together in the ELP houses only makes everyday life easier. Based on the experiences of the past two months, the residents of the house help each other after a long day at work. The busiest time in the kitchen is between 8 and 11 when we usually meet while cooking dinner to discuss how everyone’s day has been.
The members of House 6 typically listen to various retro Ukrainian and Polish music whilst our Congolese, vegan or IKEA pizza dinner is being prepared. This year’s fellows also like to celebrate together; the cohort has already gone through 4 birthday celebrations, including a big joint dinner party, where everyone presented a dish from their nation. It is fascinating that among the fellows, there is a healthy mix of people working in EU institutions, NGOs and other professional places. The cohort members are in a similar stage of life and experience similar dilemmas, problems and situations. For me, this provides a lot of help because I can share my thoughts, and I get a lot of valuable services and opinions from my roommates. This facilitates the start of a new chapter in our lives.
As a professional classical musician, I had never imagined life in Brussels would start at the European Leadership Programme beginning with Ignatian leadership training alongside lawyers, EU blue book trainees and communication specialists. In one of the sessions we were asked the question: if you could tell a room of people something that would change their lives, what would you say?
I realised in this moment it was nothing to do with my career, the very thing I had attended the session to think about! I realised I would want to share the good news of Jesus. The news that you have a Father in heaven who loves you, that we have all messed up but can find forgiveness and new life through a relationship with Jesus. We do not need to prove ourselves as good enough for God but simply pray directly for his forgiveness and ask him to come into our lives, filling us with his holy spirit. I have seen my life, and that of many others, change in response to this news.
To begin this time in Brussels with a renewed sense of my foundation was powerful. As a group, we then enjoyed an Ignatian retreat followed by individual spiritual coaching throughout the programme. Especially in a time of new beginnings, it is extremely valuable to be listened to as we discern the next steps of our lives.
During the first month of ELP, we went on a spiritual retreat in the Quartier Gallet. We spent time together close to nature, cooking, cutting wood, praying and just enjoying our time through conversations. The experience was overall very captivating, but the one interesting thing that stood out to me was what Jesuits call the practice of ‘silence’.
I found this practice a true positive surprise, as similar exercises are found in various forms throughout different cultures and eras. I did not know that there is an equivalent of this in Christianity, and it is remarkable that Jesuits and some others widely do it. It doesn’t matter if you call it meditation, contemplation, going within, silence, or anything else, there is a particular value in moments when one chooses to have a few dozen minutes of complete solitude either reflecting deeply or trying not to think at all. It is especially relevant now in the age when information is widely accessible and our minds are sometimes overwhelmed by everything happening around us. Of course, doing it away from city sounds is much easier, but in my experience, true silence should be found from within, as God has created us spiritually complete and perfect.
I want to end my thoughts with a quote from one good old philosopher: “People try to get away from it all – to the country, to the beach, to the mountains. You always wish that you could too. Which is unnecessary: you can get away from it anytime you like. By going within. Nowhere you can go is more peaceful – more free of interruptions – than your own soul … so keep getting away from it all – like that. Renew yourself. But keep it brief and basic. A quick visit should be enough to ward everything off and send you back ready to face what awaits you.”