I promised to let you know how the Retreat went.
It was interesting, restful and enlightening.
It also put a magnifying glass on some things I wasn’t even aware of. Beliefs and behaviors that were not really serving me. And some realizations that shocked and then strengthened me.
So, all in all, it was a success.
Oh! You mean you want details? Well, alright.
Arrived at the Retreat House about 7 minutes late. I’m either early or late – I don’t think I’ve ever arrived somewhere perfectly on time – too stressful trying to orchestrate that kind of life. So far, for the most part, I’ve been forgiven.
Twenty minutes after arriving, I’m on my rump, surrounded by sharp rock landscaping and plucking out the weeds that dared to start growing in this hot, hostile environment. They don’t look like weeds to me. Some of them even have pretty little purple flowers, with just a burst of white and yellow on one petal out of five. I look at all of them. Sure enough, that same little burst is located on each of them.
How does the flower know which petal to put the colors on?
Why are my eyes green?
Five hours later, I’m walking the path to the abbey chapel, wondering what Vespers is like, if I can manage not to make any faux pas (I’m not Catholic) and surveying the beauty of the landscape around me.
And I want to cry. I feel it welling up inside of me and just as suddenly, to my shocked amazement, I observe it getting stuffed right back down into some secret place inside of me. My brain committee is doing it’s usual roundhouse commentary:
Miss Socially Responsible: “If you start, you may not stop and you can’t go into the chapel crying and a mess.”
Mr. Recluse: “What if some one walks by and thinks you’re hurt? Wait until you’re in a more private place.”
Mrs. Count-Your-Blessings: “What are you crying for? You’ve got a week of freedom here, in beautiful surroundings. You should be ashamed of yourself, you ingrate.”
And just as suddenly as the desire came, it was gone… emptiness. I couldn’t have cried if someone paid me a million bucks. “That’s odd”, I think.
About five minutes later, my chest hurt so bad I wished I didn’t have to walk the 3/4 of mile back to where my pain pills were.
Eureka! The emotion/body connection so quickly showed itself when I purposely let go of commitments and responsibilities and focused just on me.
Aha! All I have to do is cry, until I’m done, and then my chest won’t hurt anymore.
Day Two: Scrubbing a floor on my hands and knees, because
A.)Haven’t found a mop yet that does the job I want done and
B.)Because what I was asked to do (remove some leftover tape residue with Goo-Be-Gone, wash with warm soapy water and rinse) has highlighted the fact that Mop-n-Glo buildup tends to turn off -white, instead of the original pure white of the tiles. So nothing to be done but wash the whole durn floor. I simply can’t leave the white flat stripes amid the Mop-N-Glo shine.
(I do try to clean up the messes I make.)
The Sister in charge of me during my stay finds me on my rump (again) with washcloth, scrub brush, butter knife (for stubborn spills) rinse cloth and bucket. Her comment?
“Mother Abbess and I are concerned that you are not resting enough. You came here to heal.” A long pause. “God speaks to us in a variety of ways. Apparently, you must need to work in order to hear.”
She smiles and leaves me to my task. Uh-oh. Here come the tears…yes, yes…..awww…..noooo……c’mon! Just cry!
Nope. And another running commentary convenes:
Ms. Historian: “Remember the story your grandmother told your mom? About what a cry baby she was and she prayed that she would never cry again? And how one day she tried and couldn’t and she prayed to God that she could cry again? How could you repeat that mistake?”
Ms. Logical: “There’s no one here who will be upset by your tears. Just let them flow.”
Miss Cheerleader: “You can do It!”
Mr. Negative: “You want me to tell you some sad stories? Would that help?”
(No, I’m not schizophrenic – I’ve just become VERY observant of my mind chatter. And it helps me to sift through what’s real and beneficial (and what’s not) if I assign different thoughts to committee members. Members are appointed anytime I identify chatter that isn’t me, but an echo of past conditioning – conditioning that may or may not have been in my best interest.
On the flip side, long ago, a friend shared with me an article she read about how people ‘self-medicate’ for different things. Apparently, smoking helps keep schizophrenic tendencies under control………..and I’m a smoker…………..so, maybe me and my committee members are part of some undiagnosed dilemma…)
I tried. I honestly did. And I did manage to squeeze out two or three actual tears. But by then, it was lunch time and since part of my duties were to help clean the dining room and wash dishes after meals, I decided it wasn’t the best time to ‘make it happen’. Besides, I still had days and days left. There was no rush.
I don’t try walking to the chapel for offices anymore. A walk to the creek, a stop by the lilac bush that has a few last tender blossoms left and sitting listening to the chaplain’s goats bleat their protest at having to come in from the hills seem to lift up my spirits in a way I haven’t felt for quite awhile. That’s enough for now. Plus, I’m enjoying just wandering around.
Not all who wander are lost, so the saying goes.
Day Three: Morning – I’m getting into a routine. Weeding in the morning while it’s cool, clean up after breakfast time, read, write, hang out by the creek until lunch. Clean up after lunch. Work on floor in retreat hall. Read, write, nap. Clean up after supper. Listen to the birds and creek. Smell the lilacs every time I walk by. Watch the moon rise. Go to bed. Wait. Get up and take a pain pill…. Oh, if only I could just cry.
Mid-morning: I’m sitting on the rocks, even plucking out ‘weeds’ that are nestled down below. IF I do a really good job, then maybe the area won’t have to be weeded for awhile. And hey, I’m already here, and nobody has complained about me being too slow at my work. So might as well get them all while I’m at it.
Funny things, weeds. From this perspective, they look pretty. How have they grown here? Short roots meander in and out through sharp rocks. Once the sun hits this side of the yard, it’s going to be hot, hot, hot. How do they get their nutrients if their roots aren’t in dirt? How did the seeds get here? How did they work past the black weed guard I find at the bottom of the rock pile? Did they blow in and the warm rocks were just enough to get them started? How do they dare survive?
And why, on earth, am I ripping up and killing something that has made a life against all odds? Why must I destroy something just because it dared to grow in the wrong place?
And I finally cry. Huge globby tears run down my face. Nasal drainage and no nearby Kleenex are not a good mix. I’m watering the rock garden all by myself. Just me and the bitter reminder that young things die too. And the realization that here, I do have a choice. I could tell the Sisters I don’t feel morally right about what I’m doing. They’d probably say, “Okay.” Or maybe they would think I was crazy.
And I cry harder when I realize I’m mad at the injustice of it all. That pretty things must be destroyed so we can look neat and prosperous. That life that has succeeded against the odds is still fragile and can be destroyed without thought or regard.
I cry until my eyes are swollen and my head hurts. But, hey, lookee here… my chest doesn’t hurt as bad.
I’m done weeding for today. And maybe for always. I save one pretty purple flower with the white and yellow sunburst. I tell it I’m sorry. I put it in my journal.
Day Four: Morning -Apparently I have been stifling the tears quite awhile. I’m crying about everything now. In fact, it feels like I’ve been crying since I got here, though I know that isn’t true. I didn’t think I had enough fluids in me to be disposing of as much as I am. I drink more water, just in case.
Mid-day – I’m on the bench hidden away on the north side of another retreat hall. I’m thinking about the allegations of depression. (me, suffering from, supposedly) It occurs to me I’m not. I’m interested in all kinds of things. There any number of subjects, projects, people and places that interest me… they just aren’t the same as Before. I have such a feeling of peace once this realization occurs.
Yes, I’ve changed. Yes, what I want now and what I like is different. That doesn’t mean I’m sick, or depressed or “not healing”.
It does mean that I’ve spent two years trying to ‘get back into’ the personality, life and ways of doing/being, that I no longer want. It means that I have changed, and trying to pretend I haven’t is stressing me out and making me sick. I vow not to keep trying to recapture the old me, but instead embrace, mold and define my new life.
Will those around me accept this?
Me: “Well, either they will or they won’t, but I can’t keep pretending I’m the same anymore.”
Wow! I like this committee member.
Evening – Seems Mother Abbess and Sister-in-charge-of-Tamrah have decided to save me from myself. I’m not to scrub the Retreat Hall floor anymore. What I’ve gotten done is enough. It’s the wide swatch right in front of the french doors.
“It looks like it’s been done with Intent. It’s good enough,” proclaims she.
Really? I can’t remember anything ever being good enough, except when I decided I was too tired or too sick to work one more moment. Hmmm. Who would have thought?
To be honest, I really wasn’t enjoying it much, because some local spiders had moseyed in and it took a lot of time and effort to get them onto the butter knife and back outside, alive. See? I’m learning. I didn’t just kill them (though it would have been quicker and easier).
The acrobatics involved in getting spiders back to the place where Humans say they should be, without maiming or killing them, took a lot of energy. Plus, some of them looked sort of scary. It’s hard to balance a moving spider on a butter knife flat edge while trying to hold it 3 feet from you. So, all in all, I was okay with their request that I stop the floor project.
I’ve cut back on the amount of work I do. I’ve also been informed to wait until those assigned to help me with the dishes arrive, instead of having them all or nearly all done by the time they get there. I’m not trying to be purposefully disobedient. But it just drives me to distraction to wait around for help to arrive. I just start. And truly, I’m not working hard or fast. I’m taking my time and enjoying the process. But, in all fairness, I’ve spent some time working in restaurants. You get used to a routine and efficiency. Can’t unlearn that.
It occurs to me that I’ve defined myself as a ‘hard worker’ for so long that I don’t really know how to just do what I’m told and dilly-dally around with a project. So I purposefully quit working before I get tired and quit pushing myself to ‘hurry up and get things done.”
Ms. I Told You So chimes in: “Boy, will they be sorry when they see the monster they’ve created. Bet they’ll wish they had left well enough alone and let you work.”
I tell her to shut up, I’m not interested in her opinion.
(She was wrong. The more I slacked off, the more pleased my hostesses seemed. Have I been laboring under false information all these years? Or just under work-aholics expectations?)
Day Five: Morning. Yesterday and today, other retreatants arrive. They aren’t on silent retreat like the other five I’ve spent meal times with the past four days. They are nice, but I’ve gotten used to not talking to anyone much. They are also inquisitive. Who am I, where did I come from, do I come there often.
I think about placing one of the “Silent Retreat” lanyards around my neck. But I haven’t worn one all week. (didn’t need to.) If I do it now, might seem rude. Besides, I have to go back to the world sometime. Might as well start practicing regaining my social skills now.
(To those who know me, this is a hoot. Like belly-laugh, slap-your-knee hoot. Since the illnesses and deaths the past three years, yes, I can still talk to those I know well and feel safe with. Words just flow out like a river. Making ‘small talk’ with others, or conducting myself in a socially acceptable way around those I don’t feel safe with or don’t know well, however, requires a huge amount of energy and stresses me out a great deal. I don’t really relate to others very well anymore. And a lot of ‘hot topics’ seem silly to me. And what I think is really important, doesn’t seem to even be on the radar for most folks. So, it’s easier to just not talk.)
I try not to be blunt and rude. I stifle the urge to tell them I’m here to heal, not help others with their problems. (selfish, I know, but I apparently have a neon sign on my forehead that reads, “Tell Me! I Care!” that doesn’t have an off switch.)
I finally just nod my head, quote some obscure thought or idea from a book and figure if they think I’m crazy, they can just think that. It’s not like I’m going to see them again.
By evening, I’m thinking I can live the rest of my life just making vague quotes that I think are relevant to the story I just heard. I don’t have to care or be involved. I can just float in, smile, listen until there is a question or pause, quote something and float right back out of the room. It’s Working! Ahhhh….the joy of not having to connect or care. I could get used to this.
I also realize that I’m really not into spending much energy trying to ‘keep up and maintain a social call’ anymore. Yup, there’s going to be some streamlining done when I get home.
Day Six: Guess some of the folks expected at the Retreat House are not coming after all. By tonight, it will just be me. I’ll be causing more work than I’m doing. I’m no longer crying all the time. The weeding on the South East side is done. The floor is done, with Intent. I feel pretty peaceful and quiet. I’m ready to go.
I help clean the retreat house and rooms used this past week. I thank Sister-in-charge-of-me for all her insights, assistance and support. Haven’t shared all that has happened… Still, she smiles broadly and informs another that I have ‘had a revelation’. Is it that obvious? Guess so.
Thank you St. Benedict, Sisters and the Universe. Thanks for the space and grace for me to cry, give up killing myself to make a point and quietly examine my committee members.
And I saved my greatest realization for the last:
In my effort to put to good use all the wonderful theories I’ve been exposed to in the past years, regarding change, loss and inner peace, I kept trying to give thanks and gratitude for all in my life – tried to always see and share with others the good that came out of my losses. I visited then tried to overcome my feelings of bitterness, anger and resentment at lost loved ones, unfair dealings and hurtful actions of others.
I looked for and found the strength I needed to do what needed to be done and thanked the Universe for that Strength.
But I never once asked for a quiet spot to cry, until I could cry no more.
Now, I know better.