Winter Solstice, Day 13, Online Retreat

One more day until the Winter Solstice, a rarely celebrated holiday but a meaningful one just the same, particularly because it is the shortest day of the year—the day with the least amount of light.

In Celtic tradition, this was a time to Pause, (what else could they do, without electricity the nights were endless?), and the Celts were left to build bonfires and huddle around until the dawning of day. During this darkest night women were asked to soul- search–to redefine what it means to be feminine—to contemplate one’s individual purpose and then to begin to plant seeds in the moist dark earth with the hope that they would germinate and grow seedlings as the light of day gradually became more prevalent.

Therefore winter, which includes a period of hibernation and waiting, seems the perfect time to continue our retreat work. If women are the “carriers of culture,” as Ashley Montagu once said, then we owe it to ourselves and those around us to continue our inward journey and see it as not selfish time but rather selfless time.  Imagine if women all over the world took this precious dark time when the spirit envelopes to continue to ask the important questions and then meditate on them during the months ahead.

On this particular Winter Solstice we will be further strengthened by the total lunar eclipse– a rare occurrence when the earth, sun, and moon are in perfect alignment. Isn’t that alignment precisely what we have been seeking as we have been pondering the meaning of our personal existences over the past few weeks?

If you were able to do just one day of retreat or if you were able to go through the entire process, some small seed of yourself is germinating and waiting to bloom.

For as the poet Rainer Maria Rilke said: “And now let us welcome the new year, full of things that have never been”

Ponder the Process:

Here is the process we used in the past several weeks in order to go inward and hear our own voices. By getting on-line every Monday and Friday you were:

Answering the Call of Your Consciousness

Becoming a Pilgrim to seek answers for your life

Relishing the Path – the adventure of the unknown

Surrendering to Serendipity and find new delight

Welcoming the Transitions you find yourself in

Seeking Seclusion so you can be without chaos and clutter

Accepting Detours as an inevitable part of living

Taking Action with personal intention

And all of these steps will continue to lead up to you becoming your own heroine.

Finding Your Center, Day 12, Online Retreat

Embracing Mystery and Ritual

It’s taken me years to walk a labyrinth and actually settle in to the experience. But once I accidentally discovered the ancient labyrinth on Iona it became the profound moment such a meditative ritual can offer the seeker.

So, I was looking forward to what message I might receive this time. It is always breathtakingly beautiful to arrive at the top of Colomba’s Bay moor and gaze down to the water’s edge—the grassy meadow dotted with grazing sheep, the rocky coastline laden with impish seals,  and tucked somewhere amongst it all,  is the labyrinth.

Once down near the shore I spent quite a bit of time searching for the “right” stone to leave in the center—this time a heart-shaped one. But with intention and purpose just now I hightailed it to the entrance.

The path is narrow making one concentrate hard to put one foot in front of the other. Maintaining balance is key as falling into another’s path would take away from my own personal path. But once I got a rhythm and was clearly on the way, I gave into the moments.

Shedding is what you are meant to do—leaving outside of the spiral all thoughts, regrets, ideas, projections—an attempt to stay clear and concentrate only on the task at hand—to receive a message in the center of the spiral.

Today I heard the words, Let Go—nothing dramatic, but surely a useful instruction. OK, I’ll take it, I thought, and left my stone on top of the pile before me. As I turned and began the equally long walk out, the tears began to flow—I had been holding on to so much that was outlived—regrettable experiences-lost dreams-cherished people that I had no power to rescue  and needed to release.

Once outside the labyrinth, I headed up the beach and came upon a Native American Medicine wheel indicated by a small plaque someone had embedded in the sand. Aware that many medicine wheels are built to call upon one’s ancestors, I realized that there would always be support from afar– that the saints and relatives that went before us stand now with a strength of spirit to hold our endeavors and assist with their guidance.

Profound would not do justice to the labyrinth walk today. It was a relief and comforting to think that none of us walk alone. May you all experience such a message by walking your own labyrinth.

Questions to Ponder: Who can you call on for spiritual support? What is in your gene pool that can rise up and be there when the event seems too large for just you to handle? How can you begin to let go in little ways?

Cutting Loose, Day 11, Online Retreat

Last night I took some of my own medicine and had a gathering of four women, three of whom had been with me on Iona. Invited for a glass of wine I put out some cheese and crackers, a few grapes, lit the fire, and uncorked a fine Pinot Noir as well as a Chardonnay. They arrived promptly at 5 and as like-minded women often do, we got right into it—discussing Iona of course, but then marriage, hopes, future endeavors, and dreams imagined as well as dreams tarnished. What was meant to be a quick drink turned into a five hour chatty marathon, made all the more interesting because we ranged in age from 30 to 65.

If you recall at the beginning of this on-line retreat, I insisted that this exercise not just be  about self improvement– it was also about having fun. Some of my suggestions were to enjoy a glass of fine wine, have lunch with a friend, get a massage, or buy yourself some fresh flowers.

Probably the most important thing for a woman to do during this hectic holiday season is to stop the doing and make time for being. That is precisely what we each must have needed last night as we seemed determined to revel in the spirit of friendship.

May you each find time not only for yourselves but for others whose company you truly enjoy.

Walking Into Being, Day 10, Online Retreat

Take Action

“Never trust a thought that didn’t come by walking.” Nietzch

“Walking is the best way to get out of your head,” said the monk, Thomas Merton. Indeed, with no other form of transportation on Iona, I count on my sturdy legs and a bit of discipline to get me from one place to another.

My mentor, Joan Erikson, was in agreement insisting that action was everything. “Action creates change,” she would say, “and action creates reaction. And while you are in motion, particularly in nature, you will find out that wisdom doesn’t come from a book, my dear…wisdom comes from the senses being evoked.”

We would recite a wonderful chant before heading out that I use to this day:

I gather all my heart and mind into walking.
I gather all my longing and seeking into my walking.
I gather all my thanksgiving and delight into my walking.
I gather all my sorrow and heartbreak into my walking.
Let my every step be a prayer of all that is in me—
all that I know—all that is dark and obscure.

Myth has it that if you walk north on Iona you get healing—west, you get patience—south, you get clarity—and finally, east offers grace. In a sense it is like walking the stations of the cross only in a natural sanctuary rather than a church.

The process has proved to be a sound one—to be healed takes time and patience. Throughout the  process if one stays open there is clarity. And, as a result of being faithful to the  journey, a woman is blessed with grace.

Although no one who begins such a journey has any idea of the outcome, having come so far and with strong convictions and intentions this band of soul sisters are confident that triumph will be theirs.

The poet, Stanley Kunitz suggested: “I have walked through many lives—some of them my own—and I am not who I was though some principles of my being abide.” Iona is the place we’ve chosen to re-write our scripts, add new chapters, and rid ourselves of illusion as the real burns to be born.

So we follow the piper and surrender to the haunting sounds as he leads us out of town and into the moors so that we can be in a state of mind that allows new thoughts and objectives to be revealed. We have come from storms to silence—changeable weather for our changeable beings.

Questions to Ponder:

Find a remote place—an unfamiliar setting where it is unlikely you would meet a friend, or be disturbed…the ponder one of the following questions.

1.Identify something heavy within you that seems to get in the way of you feeling peaceful—How could you replace this negative burden with a positive thought and work toward the light rather than stay with the dark?

2.As you walk begin to praise the gifts you have and give thanks for who you are, rather then holding onto to the old tapes that denigrate your being.

Best Laid Plans, Day 9, Online Retreat

Accept Detours

“Nothing worthwhile can be hurried…not the season, birth, death, the coming of day or night…patience is what makes it all meaningful.” Joan Anderson

I have learned that you do not mess with the sea. Ever since being caught in a rip tide and rendered helpless several years ago, I realized then, the power of nature. It makes the decisions. We don’t have a say. And yet when my assistant and I awoke to howling winds and whitecaps stirring up the sea in front of our hotel and noticed that there was no 7am ferry docking, nor passengers waiting to leave,  we hurried down to the front desk to ask the manager what was happening.

”They’ve told us that the ferry has been canceled for the day,” he said. “It doesn’t happen often, but when they make such a decision usually the crew is sent home and there is no reversing the plan”

“You’re kidding,” I said, more than upset that seven retreaters had still not arrived and all of our best-laid plans for opening day would be trashed. Instead of going to Plan B (of which there was none),  I instead chose not to believe him, a not so subtle arrogance rising within me. I deemed that the storm would pass over and surely, the powers to be would reinstate the ferry service later in the day. After all, I had been coming to Iona for years and have never experienced such a thing! What’s more, looking out the window, all appeared normal. The sun had crested over the moors of Mull right on schedule, gulls were happily honking, and a family of unperturbed sheep had just crossed the hotel’s small front lawn to graze on a patch of lush grass. We sat down and ordered coffee, staring at one another in disbelief.

“They say the best laid plans always change,” said a young waitress attempting to assuage our angst.

I looked at my assistant, shaking my head and wondering how we could adjust our perfect agenda.

“That’s the problem,” she said, “we were into perfection.” Indeed that is the problem with most endeavors that women get involved in. Be it a family wedding, decorating a children’s bedroom, planning a dinner party, doing Christmas—we always think Hallmark and attempt to make it memorable, if not perfect.

I recall planning my first son’s wedding on a budget and having my fingers in every pot to make sure (regardless of lack of funds) that it be perfect. Alas, after the grand occasion, I was a mess—so involved in every detail I could barely remember the overall event. Remorseful and disappointed, I tearfully confessed my feelings to a friend. She loaned me a book entitled, Addicted to Perfection, and from that day forward I became less the leader and more the participant.

So back to Iona—as it turned out, our stranded retreaters made it onto the next morning’s ferry. Those of us already on the island ran down to greet the newcomers as long lost friends rather than new acquaintances and they, all but kissed the strange ground as if they were true pilgrims. Waiting does not become most women on a mission and so no sooner had they stowed their bags, laced up their boots and grabbed their walking sticks then we were off.  If Iona offers anything, it is awareness to the elements, the land, the senses they evoke, and an immediate ability to welcome the serendipitous. This morning there was a sense that although we could not get the time back lost to weather we could get on top of what happened  and allow for an attitude shift. So instead of a band of moonwalkers adjusting to the island’s energy, we became a band of hearty and eager trekkers marching with a determination and attentiveness,

“I am not what happened to me,” said philosopher James Hollis. “I am that which I chose to become.” Acceptance of what IS made us all the more eager for what could be or what was to be.

Questions to Ponder:

Surrender doesn’t mean quitting, rather it means giving in to circumstances and then standing back and letting the situation unfold. Imposing our ways and thoughts often misdirect the other. At the very least, when we try to play God or choreograph a particular scene to fit our viewpoint it becomes something willed instead of something that needs to evolve. Take this week and step back from confrontation, directing, fixing, offering suggestions and record how that makes you feel. It may be the greatest gift you can give yourself. In any case, for just this week, you will be off the hook.

Never Call Home, Day 8, Online Retreat

Seek Seclusion

“After a certain point it is necessary to let go of all outside help (or contact) and focus on one’s own resourcefulness.”  Joan Anderson

Once a woman escapes she should never call home. I had planned not to do so and then realized that the hotel computer was available for my use. And so, to be nice, I emailed my husband that we had arrived safely, gave him details of our trip complete with all the bumps and starts, wished him well for the next 2 weeks and sealed it with a kiss.

Two days later he answers. “I won’t bother telling you what’s going on here,” he offered. “Just know that I am all right.”

It wasn’t really him that I was worried about–I was much more concerned with our sons, one of whom is getting a divorce and the other, looking for a new job.

How stupid of me to invite intrusion—to open the door I had so completely shut and as a result, be left with anxiety and hours of obsessing over myriad possibilities.

A woman only needs to sense a taste of trouble and her mind begins to embellish. At first angry that he would suggest something being awry, I refused to answer and get involved in any drama that I had no way of solving. But it is such a “woman thing” that we feel so overly important—as if only we can solve the issues in the family or life.

Knowing how many women have ruined their retreats by calling home, I hightailed it to the Abbey, huddled into the Quiet Corner, began to breathe and waited for a spirit of goodwill to envelope me. Someone in the choir was singing an ancient hymn… Stoop to my weakness, mighty as thou art … words I needed to hear… and it was then that I could give over my weaknesses… such qualities as fear, anxiety, guilt, power, control– to name a few.

So I forced myself to give it to God and that led to my giving more over than I ever thought possible. Each morning before breakfast I set out for the Abbey and breathed my way toward peace of mind. Staring at the flickering candles and feeling sheltered from the roaring winds outside the stained glass windows, I began to come to some truth. It occurred to me that my grown sons, whom I obsess over, have been out of the house and therefore my tutelage for 20 years. I have not had any power over them during that length of time and now that they are facing major life transitions why would I think I had power over their circumstances now? I could only honor and have faith in what I know of them—that they possess integrity, truth, strength, a modicum of wisdom—that they are loving and deserve love in return—that in fact they have been launched and only life experience would do the rest of the job of forming their personas.

“After all,” a friend said, “raising a child is the only relationship that if you do it right it ends in separation.”

With that truth now clearly imprinted in my heart I stood up, lit a candle for each of them, released any control I thought I had, and left the abbey a changed woman. Each day there after I went back, lit two more candles and walked away, leaving my self-inflicted burdens behind.

Questions To Ponder:

Do you overrate your importance in your family’s life? What part of your role is outlived?  How can you begin to release your power and control over others to free yourself up to become the elder…the one who knows but does not act or teach?

In what circumstances can you begin to stop inviting intrusion and seek seclusion?