Being Pulled Toward Spirit, Day 3, Online Retreat

“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.

St. Columba, The Monk Who Brought Spirit to Iona

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.

What are some ways of behaving that would allow you to just BE in a place? Try to create an I AM list—not what you do, but who you are.

39 thoughts on “Being Pulled Toward Spirit, Day 3, Online Retreat

  1. I wanted to share some quotes from “Pilgrimage to Dzhvari’ written in the 1940’s by a woman in one of the Russian republics who was visiting a monastery with her son who was discerning to be a priest. She was also very much on a spiritual journey—her book is fascinating as during that time having a woman there in the monastery was quite unusual. She writes genuinely of her own ache and search for her own truth and spiritual connection.
    “It’s one thing to be aware of your own emptiness, it’s quite another to feel how wretched we are before the Lord.’
    “All my life I’d been going somewhere, urgent to understand, to write, everything made it seem necessary to learn more so that, at least, everything would find fulfillment.”
    “physical weariness sometimes brings a greater state of peace than can be found in any book.”
    “Human life is NOT independent of other forms of being. We are participants in life itself.” She ties this into God being the source of life and receiving the sacraments regularly and “you will experience life in God for yourself and not need other people’s reports.” I liked the whole idea of experiencing life fully ourselves and not turning to others to get a sense of how life it—completely immerse yourself in living.
    I lalso oved this section…’ I regretted the last forty years. Now I know that I found faith because of them. I had to feel THIRSTY, you see, or all that time, before I could look for satisfaction.” very powerful in light of our searches for our own truth or spiritual path….to have that ache or thirst or so long, to seek it out, once you find, you hold onto it or dear lie and pursue a deeper connection to it…she finishes the section with a question posed by the abbott”…Do you think you won’t ever lose your faith now?” she responds, “I’d rather lose my life. What would I do without faith? without God?”
    And finally….
    I think, therefore, I AM
    I suffer, therefore, I LIVE
    As long as we keep loving, we LIVE
    as long I keep praying, I LIVE

  2. Hi, Joan. I’m just catching up with Monday’s online retreat, and you really hit the mark for me. Since Iona, I’m trying to take time each day to retreat, by going through the daily “assignments.” Today I was “at” the Healing Beach and looking at deeper, more long-term, aches than those put behind me on Iona: the longings for passion, joy, intimacy, inner contentment and peace of mind, the very things you mention above. I’ve been frustrated by seemingly not being able to move forward with my life; I’m sure it’s because I need to go deeper before forward is possible. I’m working on my Master’s degree in Self and Soul.

    I also read your response to someone, in which you mention having small cells of women, sharing and growing together. Three of us from this year’s Iona retreat, as well as the woman who introduced us to your books, are planning to do a one-day retreat before the end of 2010 and,hopefully, continue regularly to do so. We also plan to celebrate–perhaps including our husbands–the Winter Solstice, with a Celtic Christian service found online. We’re very excited about continuing our journeys–separately and together. Thanks and blessings to you, Joan.

    • Jane so enjoyed meeting you and it warms my heart to know that our movement can expand with the help of spirit filled people as yourself. Thanks for giving me an update.I too came away with gifts and insights that are helping me navigate challenging waters

  3. Hello Joan,
    I am 62. I own and have read 5 of your books. They have become for me a new Bible. This on-line retreat is an inspired idea…glad you thought of doing this for all your followers.
    I am commenting because of your statement on your Nov. 16 @ 3:55 p.m. post…I understand the role of mother to sons as an ever-changing adventure…how do you just “simply” not be a mother anymore? Is that the relationship you had with your mother or is it the relationship you yearned to have with your mother? I AM learning.

    • I say in one of my books that my son Andy isn’t dead…just married. It is so weird that you can spend 20 or more years with a son and when he marries you rarely ever see him again alone. I think that is a mistake on everyone’s parts.. As I get older I find that it is a good thing to have one on one discussions and experiences with those I love so we can get to the meat of where we are and not just speak in generalities as so often happens in a bigger group. I have also observed that women with daughters have a much more on going relationship with their daughters than that of sons.

      • I have a grown son and daughter. It is easier to have a continuing relationship with a daughter, but still it is different. There are times you have to let go so each of you grow, but then you come back together. With my son, things changed when he got married. His wife made it very clear. When we’re all together you know you have your place and don’t step over the line. However, when she is not at home or my son travels, when he needs to talk he calls. It’s not all that often, but it’s a safe place for him.

  4. I am “blessed.” As my father used to say, “There are always people with more and always people with less. Be happy with what where you are.” As a volunteer teacher I teach a course to family’s that have loved ones with mental illnesses. Oh, the challenges they have faced. And though I have experienced a loved one’s challenges with this, I’ve seen so much that others have lived through. The one thing our class always stresses is Self Care. I call it the old watering can theory. If we don’t fill up our own watering can with what is needed, how can we possibly nourish those around us that need help? Eventually we are all on empty. If we let the watering can go dry, we have nothing more to give…and everything shrivels. I’m learning and reminding myself to take the quiet moments to replenish. Thank you for the refueling this retreat provides me.

    • indeed that is why retreat is not a luxury but rather an essential part of being or trying to BE. I find when I socialize too much in one week I am on empty spiritually. So I limit the engagements as best I can so that the ones I do involve myself with have meaning…that truth passes between us.

  5. When I was a young girl (4th grade) I was fascinated by my best friend’s Catholic faith, her church, the rituals and beautiful ornamentation. She took me with her during Holy Week to the Stations of the Cross and it was probably the first time I had ever “contemplated.” My family was not religious, but not atheist or agnostic. I need to be pulled toward spirit now, but it seems harder to do than as a young child. I think we have too many “tapes” and “voices” in our mind that disconnect us from the I AM. Thank you again for your suggested exercises. They are amazing,….simple yet complex.

    • sanctuary is never a building but rather an environment…going into ourselves is one way and stepping into a labyrinth or a beautiful field is another…in any case it is giving ourselves well-desserved time to get to know theself again.

  6. Today I AM grateful for your wisdom and joy in sharing. Joan Erikson was once your mentor, cheerleader and guide. As a student, you were ready and, divinely, your teacher appeared on the beach. You, graciously, took the baton she nuzzled in your hand, and you’re now passing on wisdom and encouragement to all of us. That’s the life cycle.

    I love reading the comments. We are all kindred spirits in our giving and nurturing natures, often hard-pressed to take care of our own inner being. Mine needs tending. I’m off to do that today.
    Blessings to all!

    • Just to spend a half hour alone, to tap into what our heart wants to tell us that day and at that moment is a free gift that is ours for the taking. Since I began this practice I find that I am less depressed and almost never lonely.


  7. Hi Joan,
    My new friend in writing and in life, Liz Thibeault, forwarded me your blog and I will add it to my bookmark bar. I have read your books and in fact know you from the author event on the cape to benefit women. I’ve been a big fan! I also live in a Harwich Victorian on 1000 Queen Anne Rd and know your friend Marcia West through her daughter Holly. I yearn to one day go to Iona. Liz and I just returned from a writing workshop at Kripalu with Natalie Goldberg, it was amazing. Thank you for your writing, I especially love all the quotes as I am compiling a book of quotes in hopes of expanding my fine art cards and adding quotes. My card business is “Robin’s Nest Art Studio ” and I sell them at Mark August and Fisherman’s Daughter in Chatham.Hope to make it to the next author event. Best, Robin

  8. Thanks for the Deepak Chopra quote, Tracey. An excellent anchor.

    Joan, the depth behind your words continues to prod and inspire me.

    BTW, I was raised Catholic and never aware that people left novenas in church pews. I was touched by your spiritual connection to that ritual.

    • Lisa


      • Joan, in reading your response to Lisa last week my answer to your question is- it’s so much more than a beginning….

        A visual emerges of ever widening ripples across the water, it’s genesis-your inspirational plunge into deeper self discovery.

        As each of us joins you, our own circles widen, grow, evolve; in isolation at times but also in connection as our circles intersect, gaining strength, hope and validation…

        Thank you…

  9. Joan,
    I have a question. For the outlived and unlived, can something be both outlived and unlived? I have been coming to these paradoxes in my life.
    For the “I am” thank you stiring up my mind and soul. As an educator for over 30 years, teaching at the K-12 public schools and now on the university level this is a list I am working on and finding it is tough. I always seem to care for my family, friends and students. I highlight others accomplishments to help them gain confidence, while I blush at compliments and turn it around to something someone did. So looking inside and bring myself out is a challenge I welcome.
    Over the last three years as I have struggled in professionally and through it all I worked to help others above myself (no surprise there as you put it). My best friend would say, buddy your spirit has been broken. I am a person who is very optimistic, a glass half full or in any situation looking for the positive, so go through that was really very difficult. I had the most wonderful mother, who really cultivated my spirit, who raised three children to believe we could accomplish anything if we worked hard and believed in ourselves. So to have my spirit broken has been a tough climb upward again. I have been working to find balance in my life, so I can’t tell how excited I am to work on this exercise.
    One spirited soul reclaiming life, Mary

    • Certain roles are outlived–in my case motherhood–I am simply not a mother any more. My boys are grown and long gone and the role of imparting my wisdom to them is over. Same is true of being a niece, a daughter, and in some cases a friend to one or another. I suppose mostly it is roles or certain careers that become outlived. The good news is that we replace tiime spent in certain roles by welcoming the extra time to go into another direction–that unlived place.

      • Joan, it makes me sad that you feel you’re not a mother anymore simply because your boys are grown and have their own families. My grown daughters call me often–not just to report on the granddaughters, but also to ask advice or just have someone to listen to them without judging. Motherhood is different from when they were small, but still just as important. It is a very large and important part of my life. I wish the same for you. I believe that your sons know you are there and when the time comes, they will not hesitate to call upon their mother.

    • Mary, I just read your story after responding to Joyce above. My story as an educator is so similar to yours. I had the struggles and the difficulties as well as the questioning of ‘what happened here’? We find it tough to do the ‘I Am’ list because it is not listed on our professional resume`. But this is our spiritual resume now and all that we have accomplished does not tap into that, does it? In a data driven profession, there is little room for us to even explore such a thing. A few years ago, I gave a writing workshop to a group of educators at a school. The group that was there was the principal, the school psychologist, the gifted and talented teacher, a social worker, and 3 elementary teachers. They were very hesitant in opening themselves to writing and sharing because their principal was there. So I pay attention to that principal and go t her to share her writing in front of her staff members. That day, they were writers…not boss and staff. What that principal had to say was incredible because no one knew her as a woman or as a writer..just a principal. She had tears in her eyes as she read; her voice was shaky with each word. I sat in silenced and listened to this stunning break through. Finally we all heard a voice that was not the usual one at a weekly 8 am staff meeting. After this moment, they all gave her a big hug and opened up themselves without reservation. It made a big difference in their daily relationship at school. Your I AM list is vital to who you are and who you are yet to become; you will find this journey an amazing thing!

  10. “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.”

    Love this line…I understand it from the inside out…you have beautifully framed words for something that I have known without knowing what it is.

    thank you!

  11. Hey Salty Lady, I AM woman hear me roar! That’s what comes to my mind pondering the I AM list! Now I am at the stage of life when I need to purr more often. Enjoying your on line retreat and your wisdom. Thank you, Bless you…Susan

    • I love that Susan! Early in our marriage my husband used that song to decribe me. I think I’ve been roaring for 34 years, trying to be heard But yes, now that you mention it, I want to let all that go, just find myself and purrrrr.
      Thank you, Janice

  12. Today is my birthday. I AM 47 years old. Took time today, alone in a beautiful park, walked and listened. I then sat and started my journal. It sounded like an easy task to make an I AM list without listing what I do or the roles I play but who I AM…much more difficult with pen to paper. Today on my 47th wonderful year of existence I make a pledge to myself, to find time each day to spend with my spirit and allow the beautiful woman who exists in this body to be seen and known. Thank you Joan for your knowledge and encouragement and thank you to all the women who walk in the same shoes with me and share their thoughts and hopes during this online journey together. I learn so much from each of you, thank you for sharing.

    • Happy Birthday! The world is a better place because you are here, bringing to yourself and then others what really counts–life lived heartily and with awareness.
      Being not even halfway to a hundred you have many 2nd, 3rd, and 4th journeys ahead of you.

      An interesting exercise might be for you to look back 10 years and see who you were then and who you are now. And than applaud your transformation!

  13. Being pulled toward spirit; what an amazing gift when we choose to listen…

    Of late, my spirit has developed a very heightened sense of synchronous telepathy. Voices, messages and invitations keep knocking on my soul and the phenomenal thing is, when I answer, when I’m moved to respond, the ones I reach out to have been “hearing” me on the other end…

    Yesterday, it was my 18 month old great niece, Marisa Alegria, who was literally, pointing to my picture just as I skyped her in Vancouver, Canada.

    Today, it was Marisa’s grandmother, my beloved sister Jeanne, who left this earthly plane a little over 5 months ago, calling out loud and clear, insisting I call our sister Dori whose path had eluded me of late.

    Jeanne’s ashes are perched atop my desk in a golden ceramic cylinder purchased at Yankee Ingenuity of Chatham, MA. The cover is inscribed with a deep brown sand dollar, the epitome of balance and symmetry. When my laptop bumped the desk, Jeanne’s cylinder trembled for a full 6 or seven seconds and I heard her voice loud and clear.

    So I left a message inviting Dori to lunch. Not 10 seconds later, my phone rang. Dori’s laughing voice informed me she was getting her hair done and when her hairdresser heard her phone ring, Dori’s response was, “Oh, I hope that’s my sister Laurie, calling to have lunch.”

    Two hours later, we were staring out at the dark gray ocean,hands clasped, tears brimming, listening to Dori’s newest CD. Her sensuous, haunting voice sang the song she and Jeanne wrote together, shortly before Jeanne died entitled Heart Wounds. How deeply grateful am I that today, I chose to listen….

    So I thank you Joan for validating this quest to “listen” and just “be”- with ourselves, with spirit, and with each other.

    • So often we forget that our ancestors live within–they are our DNA–and as such we carry within us their characteristics, indeed their strengths so that we are not alone on this journey but being buoyed from within if we choose to re-member!

  14. Interestig post today, Joan. Particularly about the visiting the Catholic Church to collect the novenas to strengthen your spiritual self. Being a convert to Catholicism, that is one practice that I continue to learn and practice….all the different ways to pray–whether it be contemporaneously or through the rosary, morning prayers, novenas, etc. Some days reciting beautiul words of a prayer helps me connect with that inner spirit and then move towards a more personal prayer with our Lord. Sometimes I just need to feel the beads of my rosary. For times of solitude and silent meditation I enjoy the Adoration Chapel–for almost two years now I have dedicated an hour a week to this practice. I also try to hike on a local trail at least twice a week for an hour each—it sure soothes and lifts the spirit. I also try to take a half hour each night to reflect on my day, collect the best part of each day and also to pray. I always wondered why older Catholic women attended Daily Mass or prayed the rosary frequently—I now understand their need for solitude and peace in the midst of or after raising their families and being all to everyone around them. Smart women. My I AM list is growing………I am love, grace, peace, thoughtfulness, special, intelligent and a sacred vessel…….

  15. Hi Joan, Your online retreats are a real treat to read. Being able to tap into your clarity of thinking, with the questions to ponder, are a great way of connecting with what’s important in life. Every day life obscures so much, often you don’t have time connecting with the now. But this is where we are today, enjoy the moments that arise, see them with different eyes. Nature is a great calmer, you can’t do anything more than watch it, which makes you slow down. On the question of just BE I have recently been lucky enough to visit some beautiful scenery to “just BE in” over the last month. Dungeness, stark and bleak, a small Greek Island and a Turkish peninsula, beautiful bays of lapping water, followed by the Mountains of Mourne in Ireland. All have their individual beauty, giving time and space to connect with yourself. One day by the sea I read one sentence by Deepak Chopra “Take time each day to be silent, to conect with your spirit, to just Be.” so I put down the book and watched and listened to the gentle lapping waves. For an amazing month I have watched the world go by and hope to hold onto a more mellow self. It is not so easy to practice this in the busy schedules of life and I thank you for reminding me to keep up the practice closer to home. I will ponder on the I AM list!

    • If you took a picture of any one of those places it would be fun to make a stack of those pictures (like a deck of cards) and on any given day pick out one picture and allow yourself to go back to the feelings you experienced in that moment.

  16. Joan,

    I am going to work on that “I Am List” today, I don’t think I even begin
    to know what “I Am”,now that you have brought it up.


  17. Dear Joan, This really hits home for me. I have a hard time separating myself from what I do. After 20+ years of teaching, I’m so wrapped up in it. It’s difficult to leave things at school–still think about them in the evening or weekends. I know I have to unwind and let go. I’m too identified with my profession. I guess I need to look forward to Thanksgiving break and give myself a retreat. I found this list hard to do actually, but I’m still working on it and probably always should be. Making this “I AM” list forces me to think about and remember myself for myself. I hope that makes sense.

    • Being in the I want place is the ego talking.Being in the I am place is the soul talking. The reason for retreat–for taking time for self is get back in touch with soul–with our true being. My I am list is coming along slowly but for now I know that I am faithful, compassionate, a communicator, one who tries hard for relationship–I am also fun, fun loving raunchy, naughty at times, a rule breaker and more…have fun doing your list.


    • Hi Joyce, Your post struck a deep chord with me as I have been teaching for close to 30 years as a special educator. This year, I switched to be a part time school librarian and I love it. In 1997, I decided that teaching consumed my life and my being. I knew that I wanted something else, but how to find the time! I joined Sweet Adelines, became a writer and a photographer; seeing and doing things that enriched my identity as well as given me dreams I never knew I had. With all we have to do as teachers in these times, the stresses are many and even alone time in our thoughts is busy. Last year on Iona, I told Joan that I could not hike that day as my mind was too busy and full. I needed to rest and be quiet and do nothing. I had to give myself permission to do just that very thing. My heart and head thinking collided and I just had to say “stop!” yes, even on Iona. It takes time to find our “inner woman” and even more time on how to live with what we have found. You have done the biggest first step by being here and acknowledging your identity being so intertwined into being a teacher. The old adage of “once a teacher, always a teacher” rings so very true, doesn’t it? At your next staff meeting sit in silence and look around you…I bet there are others feeling the same thing-but it never occurs to them to acknowledge it or talk about it. Even your principal if its a female. Take a deep breath and retreat with Joan step by step slowly. There is excitement in finding out such possibilities that you never knew existed!

      • Nancy and Joyce,

        Thank you both for your thoughts on how teaching can consume you. I have been teaching for 4 years and cannot seem to find a way to separate myself from my job. I am in a place where I want to change but find myself afraid to take that step and unsure what to do next. After many years of doing for everyone else I am struggling to do for myself and have a difficult time seeing who I am beyond others expectations. I am inspired by this retreat blog to find who I am beginning with my I am list.

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