I returned yesterday from my time of retreat and remembering. The Columbia River Gorge is stunning this time of year, I spent most of my time simply in awe of the beauty there, receiving the gifts. I have lots bubbling and stirring in me. Returning from retreat is always a hard transition time, especially since it is the middle of the quarter and I have quite a large pile of work waiting for me. There were so many gifts and I will be integrating them for a while. I will weave the threads of this small journey into the fabric of my life.
While in Portland I got to see an old friend from my time of doctoral studies. She made me this wonderful meal of wild salmon, roasted squash, asparagus, and wild rice and we talked for several hours catching up about our lives. She finished her dissertation the year after I did, and was telling me a bit about it. Her topic was asceticism and contemplation in connection with a spirituality of the natural world and focused on Antony of the Desert. The classical model of the spiritual journey reflects his own: call, withdrawal, and return. This also reflects a simpler version of Campbell's Hero's Journey. Of course we are called to this archetypal pattern (and others) again and again in many small ways.
My time away on retreat always begins with a strong sense of call, a knowledge that something greater than me is luring me away from everyday life for a few days to listen deeply. It pulses in me, my whole body hungers for the experience of stillness and to dwell fully in the place of intuition and dreams. The withdrawal for me is usually going somewhere in the woods or by the ocean (or preferably both!) and being in that place of silence, listening for how the time wants to unfold, receiving whatever is being offered to me. The return is often hardest. I am always eager to return to my home, being a nester, and to be with my beloved again, but it takes time to behold the gifts received. There is a transitional space I dwell in as I carry my transformation back to the world that needs to be honored. I walked for long hours in the forest, I offered a spontaneous ritual of remembering for my mother and Duke, I sat literally soaking in the world around me down to my bones, I took long baths and naps, I journaled and took lots of photos, I listened to some CD's while driving of Michael Meade who does a lot of work with storytelling, myth, and imagintion, read some poetry and writing about Celtic spirituality, and held an open space within me. So in the midst of life's busyness I will also be holding this time tenderly in the spaces of my heart and of course unpacking this a bit more and writing about some of that here.
Are you being called somewhere in these days of fall-ing? What does the call sound like? What does it feel like in your body? What would it mean for you to respond?
-Christine Valters Paintner