Skip to main content

Retreat

I'm on a retreat. Where? That's a secret. Because retreats are supposed to be just that... a stepping away from daily life, with it's bills, phone calls, laundry... the endless stream of little to-do's and distractions that eat away at your day, your best intentions, your ability to think deeply and create.

On this retreat, one of the main things I was going to do is write. So I'm writing here, which was set up for just that and has not seen a bona fide entry in far too long.

Though I still have laundry.

And groceries to buy, and dishes to do. But those activities are different here. Without the avalanche that is my daily life they are more like satisfying accomplishments -- and at times, become meditations.

I still have my free-lance writing to do every day, which makes me have to go to bed and wake up a little earlier than I'd like M-F. But I sleep in on Sundays ( as a grown up, that can still mean I wake up at 6 something but it's my choice). I also signed up at a gym. I have learned that it's good to do a few things to anchor you - or to have a place to go where you feel you belong in a strange new place, while the rest of the hours can be wild. That could also mean finding a coffee shop where you become a regular, or a park that you visit to feed the birds, or a bench you return to to read or people watch.

Remember the endlessness of days when you were a kid?  You weren't even aware of time and had no idea of what day it was. With school out, and an adult to tend to the things that make a home run and provide your meals, all that was left was to lose yourself in your imagination and spend your energy any way that you found to do it. Summers were endless then.

How often have I (you) in adult life, wished for a way to get a little of that back. Self-imposed retreats are the only way I've found to create it now. So I make the space for them from time to time.

One of the great things is that I don't talk for hours at a time, sometimes for days on end. When I was in my early 30's I rented an apartment in Paris at a pivotal time in my life. It was to be for 6 months, but in the time between planning to execution the time shrunk to three months, then to about seven weeks. Still, it was one of the truly golden times in my life. I gave it to myself as a gift, and reveled in each and every single minute -- a whole other essay. I went knowing no one, and speaking only the most basic French. It took me 13 days before I felt the need to go somewhere and hunt down someone to talk to.

Short of ordering a croissant and a cafe creme or asking if the museum was up the road, I spoke to no one. I was having a giant love affair of the senses, and was totally absorbed, leaving no need for any other kind of communion.

When I approach a retreat, the weeks of preparation - of thinking in advance what I want to do with the time and therefore what I need to bring - begins to make subtle shifts in my consciousness. For me, who has lots of stuff, picking what is most essential is a lesson in itself. It's quite like picking three things if you were going to a desert island -- only you can essentially bring a whole trunk.

There are only so many books, paper, pens, and inks I can bring - and now, I add devices, cords, chargers, headphones, discs. Only so many clothes - things that work together, will cover me for any occasion, be appropriate for where I'm going and what I'll do (Hiking? Beach? Glaciers? Yoga?). Oh the things I could read, the movies and documentaries I could catch up on, the things I could learn about my computer and my camera, the languages I could learn, the recipes I could try, what I could finally write if I only had the time.... These compete for space when planning an open span of time.

On my retreats, the point is to leave time open. So I get fantasy fulfillment in putting it all out, but the discipline of choosing what to put back. One of the those was my guitar, something I haven't played in decades, but which calls to me often from the corner in which it leans... This is also an exercise in setting expectations and honoring limitations. Good practices all.

An advantage in taking only what you need is to experience the sheer lack of clutter. Tidying up becomes much easier. Things have a place - a place that is not found under or blocked by piles - so it is very easy to return things after use. Starting with surfaces free of junk mail, magazines, files, etc. it's easier to toss to keep it that way. I know some people who live like this every day. My brothers home is spotless. There is not a bic pen cap, poorly re-folded newspapers or a misplaced coffee cup on any surface in his home. The dishes, including bakeware, look as if they were bought yesterday (at Williams Sonoma, mind you). They hand clean and DRY every dish and fork themselves. Not a spec of dust in the furthest corner of the tile grout behind the john. I've always wondered - HOW DO YOU DO THAT? I give hours a week to trying to keep on top of things, but my place never looks even close to that. Here, everything is spotless, and it easy to keep it that way, with minimal effort. I realize how much those piles subtly stress me out. How much awareness is blocked to ignore the clutter. How much extra energy is spent working around them or trying to get on top of them (which often feels like scooping water out of the ocean). Do we really need so much stuff?

The best thing about waking up the first day (and most days thereafter) is the sense that you can completely change your life solely based on what you choose to do in each hour. You don't need to do what you always did. How simple that seems. Without thinking, a habit I've begun is to open the curtains onto the deck first thing and step out to see what the temperature is. The first thing my bleary eyes take in is the water, which is right across the narrow street, something I would wish for everyone. I check out the tides, see how the texture of the water's surface is always changing.  Yesterday it was choppy and this morning it's completely still and clear and reflects like glass. In my pink leopard pajamas, I stand in the chilly fresh air, and often the sun, sometimes in fog or snow and let my body become fully awakened by the elements. In a primal sense, it's completely natural and I realize how far away I can get from that.

There are lessons for me everywhere and in every thing.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Eulogy for Albert Joseph

Editors Note: The italics are an intro, the eulogy itself is below the photos.

Sunday, March 30, 2008  

In the early hours of Saturday, March 22, my father passed away, at home, in his own bed, from natural causes. He was not struggling. He didn't cry out or look scared. We didn't know it would be his last day.

He had looked a little more lackluster earlier that evening as my sister was visiting him at our house. Yet his vitals were normal, so he was put to bed. By 3:00 AM his caregivers said he was breathing heavily, so they propped him up on his pillows hoping to create some relief. His pulse was good at 69... And yet, he took one big breath and then, no more. 

Don't we all wish to go under our own roof,  free of wires and tubes! For that much, and that he is no longer in the state that he had been in, I'm very grateful.


Photo by Joannah Merriman

For the previous five years he'd suffered from a multitude of conditions that happen to the body when it gets old. In the fi…

Excerpts from Notes from Paris: A Work in Progress, Part One

When I turned 30, I went to Paris for the first time, under circumstances far from what I'd envisioned when, sprawled across my bed as a teenager, I dreamt up a romantic vision of my adult life that included going there. But... I'd gone, and it felt like home from the moment my plane's wheels met the tarmac at Orly.  Soon after, I made a decision to put all my spare hours into writing, to see what was there. Though I had written almost every day since I was 10, I wanted to try my hand at all it's forms in a disciplined way, and set the stage to discover once and for all if it was my calling.   

 I was living in Hollywood then and ripe to leave, but it wasn't time for New York just yet. So I rented an apartment in Paris for the span that a long-stay visa would allow (6 months), and would see where life took me. By the time I arrived, unexpected developments caused me to cut that plan short. But the time I spent in Paris even now remains the best so far in a life whic…

JUST DO IT: National Novel Writing Month

November is National Novel Writing month. Did you know that?


I want to encourage people who are thinking of doing NANO to do it. It's described as "a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing.  On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30... for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel." (more on the NANO website) And I will add - or writing anything, and meeting others who are doing the same.  I've been contacted by a few writing friends who are hesitant so I want anyone else out there to know:
THERE IS ZERO DOWN SIDE This is a luxury - a GIFT you give to yourself - a whole month where you just make time to write - you will benefit greatly from nothing but support for 30 days. No one holds you accountable, there are no task masters, no shame of dropping out, & no need to reach 50,000 words. It is about having a rare, FREE opportunity to get encouragement, support, …