I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Deborah Svec’s wisdom on remembering who she is:
Retreat to Remember
Being more fully present to “ordinary” life requires a retreat from the everyday from time to time. With a circle of women, I make a pilgrimage to the mountains, where I can remember who I am and see more clearly my place in the larger world. This year was our fourth trip to the mountains for a week-long spiritual retreat.
Rather than sitting and looking out at the landscape for a week, we immerse ourselves in it, gleaning wisdom from our experiences in creation. We enter in, hiking trails that lead us to amazing vistas where we can see for miles. All that we need we carry in our backpacks: layers of clothing, water, food, and our journals.
As I step onto the trail, I step into fear – the fear that my physical body won’t be able to take me where I want to go, that pain in my back, shoulders or knees will keep me from finishing what I start. Without fail, my body responds, doing more than I thought it could, helping me to climb rocks and get an even better view of the landscape. On the trail, I pick my way through the rocks on the path, present to the moment and to the steps directly in front of me. If I look too far ahead, I may miss a rock right under my feet and trip. The journey reminds me to be present to my life, not getting too far ahead of my own story.
We walk as community, one lending a hand to the other when needed to make our way up and down the path. Those who move at a faster pace will stop and wait for the slower ones. We pause to catch our breath when necessary, reminding one another to care for our bodies by resting and taking a drink of water. In no hurry to reach the top, we stop to take pictures along the way, noticing the small details that get lost in the larger landscape: the red, purple, pink, yellow, white and blue flowers; the shape of a tree trunk and the deep grooves of its bark; the layers and colors of a rock; the orange and white butterflies fluttering between the flowers.
When we reach the top and can see out over the landscape, we sit and rest, nourishing our bodies with food and water. My taste buds come alive as I devour my lunch, savoring every bite of the smooth peanut butter in my sandwich, a sweet apple and salty potato chips. The food always tastes better on the trail, as if a master chef had prepared it just for me.
As I look out to the mountains, the trees and the sky that seems to go on forever, I realize I hunger for more than food, which is why I am here. I watch the shadows of the clouds dance over the trees below, the light and dark playing together on the landscape. The dancing light reminds me that darkness within cannot last, because where there is darkness there must also be light. The wind at the top of the mountain surrounds me, like God, holding me up, pushing me forward – or holding me back. The Holy Breath is my breath.
The water rushes down the mountain, the rivers and streams running fast and full due to the heavy snows last winter. The water’s power is unstoppable – it goes where it will without regard for what might be in its way. I watch the small tree, hanging on for dear life as the waters rush over it relentlessly. As we ascend the trail with the waters rushing down alongside us, I remember the necessity to work against powers that would hold me back or limit me. The water pushes me along the trail as we descend, reminding me of the support I receive when I’m “in the flow.”
In the evenings, we gather to reflect and share the wisdom received on the trail from the trees, the water, the mountains, the sky, the wind, and one another. As we share around the circle, I hear my voice in the voices of others, my story in their stories. I remember that we are all connected, to one another and to the larger world we have journeyed in together through the week. On our last evening together, we celebrate our connection to God and one another with communion. Afterwards, we step outside and stare in amazement at the blanket of stars above, unobstructed by light pollution or clouds.
I go to the mountains to remember who I am, to rediscover my center and to hear the voice of God, calling me back and reminding me of my goodness and my light. The mountains remind me I am part of a much larger world, here for only a breath in time. The circle of women I travel with remind me of the importance of community. They support me, hold me up, push me forward, hold me accountable, celebrate my joys, hold me in my sorrows, and listen to my dreams, my fears and my uncertainties.
By entering into the landscape and being present to it, I have become part of it.