I have returned home from my time of retreat. I love Saltspring Island with its miles of farmland and sheep grazing, its community of working artists, its forested coastline. Last Friday was a brilliant day, sun shining, baby geese everywhere, the world feeling so full of possibility.
On the drive up I was listening to David Whyte’s CD set called Clear Mind, Wild Heart which I have borrowed from the library a half dozen times and finally made it through all six of the CD’s. He talks about how we are both creatures of belonging as well as creatures of exile and that we are in a constant cycle of making our home in the world and then being thrust back into the experience of exile.
Often on retreat, I have the experience of coming home. Having the opportunity to live fully into my own rhythms and allow my body to dictate the cycles of prayer in my day is a gift that I also try and live out when back home but is more challenging when navigating the demands of the world and externally imposed schedules. I can sit for hours simply listening to the sound of water moving gently back and forth along the shore, gazing on a tree as if it were the most perfect icon ever created.
I return home this time, however, without the feeling of exile I sometimes have when returning from retreat. The experience of re-entry can be difficult when we move from the experience of stillness and solitude to the busyness of our lives. Yet today, I feel gleefully at home here in my abbey, knowing that stillness and solitude are woven so deeply into my everyday life, knowing that I have moved into a life that offers me time and space to discover the holy right here in an urban apartment, and I am so very grateful. I can breathe in the gifts of my retreat time with joy.
In David Whyte’s CDs he also talks about how we so often in life wait on contingencies. We fall into the trap of believing that when things fall into place and I have enough money, then I will live a bigger life, the one that calls to me so urgently. It takes courage, he recognizes, to stop waiting for everything to line up just right. It takes courage to create a life in which I feel truly at home again. The paradox is that I may have to thrust myself deeper into exile to get there as I begin to shed the things that other people tell me I should have or do.
As I let go of these expectations I grow in freedom, I am more joyful, I experience peace more often. “You only have to let the soft animal of your body / love what it loves.” What does your body love? Where is the invitation to return home? Do you have the courage to respond?
-Christine Valters Paintner @ Abbey of the Arts
(photos taken at Ruckle Park on Saltspring Island)