Returning

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

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6 Responses

  1. Thanks Bette! I will have to ask her if she would send me a copy of it. That ahhhhhh is so lovely and inviting, like the space between the words of one of your beautiful poems. Love, Christine

  2. I’m so happy to hear that you have stirring and bubbling inside and that you soaked up as much as you could of nature’s sacred beauty. Savor it slowly so it will last, just like that tasty meal your friend made. My best friend would do that for me in a heartbeat too. Your friend’s dissertation sounds very interesting to me. I’d love to read it as well as Campbell’s version.

    Thank you also for this great photo. I like Wendy’s idea to meditate with it. The rust-colored tree trunk gives me a deep sense of mysterious, but calming presense.

    I’ve been contemplating your questions. I think I am falling into myself. The sound is a slow and quiet “Ahhhhh”, and my response is the same in return :)

    Peace and Hugs!
    Bette.

  3. Funny you should say that, I had a pretty powerful dream right before waking this morning and I am wondering how it speaks to my experience.

    While I have experienced many long months of serious pain, my illness is pretty well controlled by my medication currently. I know that could change, it has before. This fall is especially busy though, and I am keeping my winter and spring much more spacious so as not to push my body too far.  I am also quite good at listening to my body and practicing lots of self care even in the midst of busyness, but I also know that I cannot sustain my current pace for too much longer. 

    What a wonderful idea to do lectio with this image, I will have to spend some time with it myself.  Blessings!

  4. I too would find it very hard to jump from a retreat to busyness. I think a lot of sleep is especially important after retreats too, so you can dream deeply and allow things to integrate there.

    I’m a bit awed by the amount of busyness you can handle in your life even with the chronic pain. I myself just couldnt do it, my body just wont. Maybe the work you are doing is important so you are given the strength?

    The image of the forest path here is really a rich and warm one, i could even see sitting with it for lectio visio.

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