Welcome the Challenge of Transition
Surrender to Serendipity
“You do not need to know what you are looking for—only that you are looking for something and need urgently to find it.” Janine Vega
Finally…I am on the last leg of my trip–the ferry that runs from the tiny village of Fionnphort to Iona. I rush aboard, stow my bags and head for the upper deck where I can watch for the shoreline of Iona as it emerges out of the mist. There is an immediate sense of relief—having made it onto the last ferry of the day. My shoulders relax, my head clears, and I breathe deeply of the atmosphere that gifts me with a sense of peace I find no where else on earth.
Time to unload the burdens—not only the materials brought here for the retreat but the personal burdens that have been weighing so hard on me for the past year. The long day of travel was worth every minute if for no other reason than to experience this moment– a spiraling into my center from which I can begin to see new horizons.
This is my place—it feels like home—as if I lived here in a past life. Not everyone would find this a destination to their liking—population 100—an island with no cars, few stores, one pub and a three star hotel. And yet for the seeker, such a place is perfect– sheep that safely graze, playful people with a lilt in their brogue, late night sunsets, aqua -colored water, changeable weather combined with daily rainbows, organic gardens, dancing dolphins, and a history dating back to 563 A.D.
Still, many find being off the beaten path uncomfortable having been seduced by safety. And I must plead guilty as I made myself say NO to invitations that would take me out of my comfort zone—a hike in high altitude, for one, and training for a local bike marathon. ”Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” my mother used to say. How right she was. If you don’t get off the tried and true path you risk seeing nothing—the serendipitous occurrence escapes you. So, here I am, seeking a new point of view in a place where there are no doctors, no quick exits, no immediate contact with the outside world– a place so remote with no newspapers, magazines, cell phone contact or television — no escaping yourself on Iona. After a certain point it is necessary to let go of all outside help and focus on one’s own resourcefulness.
Questions to Ponder: Are you presently carrying burdens—wounds that have been inflicted upon you or that which you have brought upon yourself? Only when we list that which we don’t or shouldn’t carry any more can we begin to heal and grow. Make a list of those burdens…(example: anxiety, grief, guilt, judgment, envy, ego, self-doubt, hypochondria, fear, mother power) and then, if you have access to stones (as we do on Iona’s beaches), write your burdens on those stones and carry them around in your purse or knapsack for awhile. The same thing can be done on pieces of paper…carry them in your wallet or place them by your kitchen sink so you can’t get away from the words and the feelings they evoke. When you have had time to see how unnecessary it is to be burdened by them or how you have held on to them for much too long –toss the rocks away or burn the papers. When you do such a cleansing or moral inventory you begin to pave the way for space to welcome more positive energy. Caring for yourself physically, mentally and emotionally is a first step in a personal retreat. “You have a solemn obligation to take care of yourself because you never know when the world will need you.” Rabbi Hillel
Relish The Path
“The real journey of discovery lies not in discovering new lands, but in seeing with new eyes.” Marcel Proust
Although this is a long journey—24 hours to be exact—and I will be taking various modes of transportation to reach my destination—plane, train, ferry, bus, and ferry—I remind myself not to waste one minute just because I might be tired and overly anxious to get to my destination. Each step along the way is unique– there will be no retracing the steps—no creating the same experience again. It is October 4th,2010 and I will never get this day back again. I must try and stay PRESENT to all the incidental moments and people that happen along the path.
It doesn’t take long for my first encounter with a lovely Scottish man sitting next to me on the plane. He engaged me in conversation after sneaking a look at some of my retreat materials. When I told him I was headed for Iona where the retreat participants would be probing the meaning of life, his interest was more than piqued—evidently he had had a near death experience which left him with a driving desire for purpose, that is, beyond what he did for a living.
“I want to be in a position to guide others,” he finally said, “like you are doing.”
Taken aback by his comment, I pondered it all the way to the train station. Once on board, the spell was broken by a band of exuberant young men, dressed in kilts, heading for a big soccer match—Scotland vs. Spain. As they sipped pints of ale and talked incessantly about their adventure, I found their enthusiasm catching. I leaned my head back and tried to drink in their youthful spirit—their in-the-moment attitude and fell blissfully asleep until the conductor awakened me in the seaport town of Oban. If I had timed it correctly I would easily make the next ferry. But alas, I learned that the winter schedule was already in effect. Momentarily agitated, I headed for a nearby bench and plopped down, focusing on a plaque nearby:
Taking this as a message just for me, I breathed in the salt air, closed my eyes, relished the pause, and felt relief that I had been slowed down. Moments later I heard the sound of bagpipes—a small band marching toward me, followed by others carrying flags and banners, obviously some local celebration. Scotland was pushing itself into me whether I wanted it or not and it was casting its spell.
After shopping for supplies that would not be available on the island, I meandered onto the ferry and felt my focus narrow even more, sitting in the bow, staring straight ahead for the small island of Mull to appear. Always on this journey as I leave behind the hustle and bustle of modern life my horizons grow smaller until I find myself on a single-track road to no where and everywhere—the final ride over to Iona.
And so, at journeys end, by staying in the moment, I am once again filled with simple truths—determination to continue with my vocation and give back, not unlike the desires of the man on the plane—remembering from those young kilted revelers, that joy is a duty—realizing that giving in to delays always offer welcome surprises—that being still is balm for the soul—and finally, having a singular focus eventually leads to clarity. The unexpected is always available on a journey. Take advantage of it.
Questions to Ponder: What moments can you collect for the next few days? Make a list of those little experiences out of which you learned a lesson or new reality. How can taking time to receive a serendipitous moment make a difference in the living of a day?
Become a Pilgrim
“A pilgrim is a seeker for answers she can’t find at home.” Anonymous
Here I go again, buckled into my seat on a small turbo-prop jet that will take me to Newark where I will catch my transatlantic flight. As the engines roar and the plane races down the runway, a sense of calmness overtakes me. I am AWAY, already out of cell phone contact, in my own space, just BEING, no longer tied to the agenda of others, the responsibility of home and the daily routine of job and community. For now I am free to be as I please, to lean my head back and give over to others—the pilot, flight attendant, even the weather—cheering my loss of control as well as my failed attempt to change those I’ve left behind. Time to focus only on changing myself. I am rendered vulnerable, a rare but important quality of being.
Still, an hour later I must navigate one more crazy world—an international terminal where I follow signs, dodge other travelers, deal with security, navigate moving staircases, all anxiety provoking inventions of modern day life—but with several hours to spare I remind myself that there is no need to rush. I remain in my bubble and feel as though I am gliding above all the commotion.
I’m reminded of a time when I had cut it too close and inevitably missed a flight, cursing my failure until my traveling companion reminded me to “be kind to myself.” That phrase is with me now, and will be the mantra for my trip. I have been kind to many recently—putting their needs in front of mine—perhaps accruing points that would entitle me to be truly selfish on this journey.
I am traveling halfway around the world to be unattached and it feels divine.
No more pushing against the current. Instead I intend to go with the flow. For I believe that under the frozen surface of my being, I will soon begin to experience a thaw, a renewed consciousness, indeed, even a new set of intentions.
As it is almost Thanksgiving, my thoughts drift to the Pilgrims—that small band of dreamers who desired religious freedom, and were courageous enough to find a means to their end regardless of the risk. How many of us have stopped ourselves from such hopes and dreams and for myriad reasons lack the spirit, means, and ideas, stopping our process and therefore stopping us from living in the way we were intended. As I said in a Year by the Sea, the habit of deference can grow like a cancer on the soul of a woman until what she becomes is out of her hands. No more deferring! It is time for us all to give into the journey and all the new possibilities that await us.
Questions to Ponder:
What could you do for adventure (remember adventure comes from the word advent…to begin again)? How could you let go of a job, relationship, duty, or event? How would that alleviate some of the chaos in your life? What is stopping you from being your own pilgrim? It is said that a pilgrimage is a way to prove your faith in self and find answers to your deepest questions. You might begin by an exercise of praise, thanksgiving, and petition—something I do on my daily walk. What in your life deserves praise, what are you thankful for, and then what do you need and desire—those qualities, experiences, and situations that will make you whole?
“The great loneliness is that people don’t know who they are.” Joan Erikson
I am a woman, always changing, trying to grow, perpetually at the crossroads…not a bad place to be as the crossroads represent choice to me. As long as there are new paths to tread upon and I have the will to risk, I will prevail on my search for wholeness.
Iona allows me to be carried, to yield to unseen currents, to be made to drift. It is a place for the spiritual journey—a time to be more internal than external–a place for one’s spirit to soar—a place to tame my “sacred restlessness” and soothe my longing for more truth, intimacy, and being at one with self. Since spiritual truths are hard to come by and enlightenment requires considerable time spent in solitude any adventure into the wilderness can help the process along.
When I was a young mother and felt spiritually impoverished, I would frequent the local Catholic Church and collect novenas (little prayers) that were left in the pews. After reading them and praying for help, I would dutifully copy them over ten times and take them back to the church to leave them for someone else. Although not a Catholic, it was truly a way to reach for strength when I felt mine lagging.
It’s no wonder that most women feel the need to reach out and search more often than not. Such feelings have their genesis because of so much incessant doing—being all things to all people. The trouble with being the doer is we are working from the external part of our selves and leaving out the internal—external being the ego and masculine, and internal being the feminine and the soul.
This is precisely why we are eventually pulled to spirit—uncomfortable going forward without going deeper—aching for those qualities not obtained from struggle—rather having intangibles such as joy, passion, vulnerability, inner contentment, and peace of mind.
If you have experienced a craving for peace, a need to stop, a niggling to listen to what your heart needs to say, it is your consciousness trying to get you to pay attention. And, by the way, no one insists that we have any of those iintangibles–no one points us to joy–we must find such things ourselves.
Questions to Ponder:
How could you be more feminine, ie. nurture your “feminine energy”, that soft, warm person than radiates and glows–one who has presence with who she truly is.
Making a journey is always about going from where we are now to another place—a higher realm of consciousness.
Iona is known as Scotland’s sacred isle, labeled iishona, meaning blessed isle. The fact that the wise Druids and no less than 30 great Scottish chieftains were laid to rest on Iona attests to the sense of holiness of the place. That is why for hundreds of years people have made a pilgrimage to the island, curious about its extraordinary powers that seem to leave no one untouched. Perhaps it is because of the unique geographical formations dating back hundreds of years, as well as the energy spots that seem to create a thin veil between oneself and the supernatural. Whatever the reason, those called to Iona leave changed.
And “called” you must be. Who else would take such an arduous trip—a flight across the Atlantic, train ride to a seaport town, ferry to the Isle of Mull, bus across Mull, and finally the ferry to Iona. But once there, a woman can find sanctuary in every corner of this empty, yet wild place.
So it always is for me each year, when I seek another dose of inner peace and have the desire to re-ignite my wilting spirit. “For people over thirty,” Carl Jung said, “all problems are spiritual rather than psychological.” Each time I take a stab at individuation, I realize that I don’t quite know what I’m looking for– just that I am looking for something.
But retreating close to home can bring the same serenity for an earnest seeker. The artist, Andrew Wyeth knew this when he settled in Brandywine, Pennsylvania. It simply was his place. He believed that everything he would ever want to capture on canvas could be found within a four-mile radius.
May you take some small inspiration from my tales and pictures of Iona and then find your blessed isle closer to your home.
Questions to Ponder
Have you been wondering who you are beyond the roles that you play, looking for a new direction, contemplating a change. If you have asked such questions you are being given a wake-up call to devote some time for yourself. There are 8700 hours in the year…isn’t it time you found a few just for you? To begin your quest, list what is outlived in your life– roles, ideals, people, In doing so you can begin to make room in order to embrace what is unlived.
“May you sink into the seamless world of uninterrupted time where the endless hours allow something to grow from nothing.”
- Joan Anderson
I have a strong belief in the need for retreating no matter what age or stage you are in. “If it is a woman’s role to nurture,” as Anne Lindbergh suggested, “then she must nourish herself.” Indeed, I found as a result of my year by the sea that selfhood begins by taking oneself away.
In a desire for destiny and a call to the challenge of knowing oneself, a woman can move from chaos to clarity by walking the quiet roads of retreat. Going from being soulfully dead to spiritually alive, she takes up the work of a pilgrim. Often physically and emotionally taxing, a woman’s quest can result in a humbling and transformative rite of passage. It has been said that the making of a heroine commences when a woman seizes her life and becomes self-directed. Indeed, “in every life, no matter how dull or ineffectual, “says Celtic philosopher, John O’Donohue, “something eternal is happening.”
A retreat can breathe new life into a woman, for there is something in each of us that listens for the sound of the genuine within.
Think about where you might go each day or once a week—a quiet, soothing place where there is limited interruption. Would it be under a tree in your backyard, a bike or hiking trail, a church, a park bench, along the shoreline, beside a babbling brook, in a meadow, or on a hilltop. The object is to live wholly and not to reach for some otherness, but rather to penetrate deeply into each hour, moment, season, or place.
To retreat is to give yourself time for self reflection, a chance to honor who you were and who you could be, a time of self indulgence. As part of your retreat plan make sure to have fun—with a glass of fine wine, lunch with a friend, a massage, buying fresh flowers. It’s not just about self improvement—it’s about being complete.
During these next few weeks be prepared to take action, find time for contemplation, designate sacred space, and become attuned to senses. All will conspire to create a shift in who and what you are becoming.