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?

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?

Time Out of Time, Day 6, Online Retreat

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

The Road Back To Yourself, Day 4, Online Retreat

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?

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.

Iona as a Model, Day 2, Online Retreat

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.

Why Retreat? Day 1, Online Retreat

“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.