I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World Guest Post series from the community. Read on for Kathy Roy's reflection, "The Gifts of Silent Retreat."
Every year, I go on a silent retreat as part of my commitment to living the contemplative path. I always choose a place that is secluded and nestled into nature. This year, I rented a home in Peggy’s Cove with beautiful walking trails and views of the Atlantic Ocean.
I was entering the silence to prepare myself for crossing the threshold into ministry. I had been studying the mystical heart of the world’s wisdom traditions for the past two years and was about to be ordained as an Interfaith/Interspiritual minister.
There was a question that I carried with me into the silence: How then shall I live? This question had been echoing in my heart as ordination approached and I yearned for this time of silence and reflection.
The day I arrived at the retreat, I parked in the driveway and was about to get out of my car when I saw a rustling in the trees in front of me. The face of a deer emerged from behind the branches. This beautiful animal was having its dinner and when it saw me, it stopped and stared. It must have determined that I wasn’t much of a threat because it soon went back to munching leaves and I was able to sit and watch it. I have always had an affinity for deer and having this one so close was a gift. I sat there feeling a need to hush in awe, thus started my entry into silence.
It didn’t take me long to discover that this house I was nestling into was, first and foremost, the home of the deer. The house was surrounded by windows and I could watch the deer, five in all, come wandering out of the woods at the back of the house, slowly munching on leaves as they meandered to the front where there were tender bushes to dine on. The deer brought with them a reminder of gentleness and compassion. When they were close enough, I was able to see their eyes and could feel the gentleness of their spirit. Yet these deer were not skittish. When I went out on the deck to watch them, the youngest one turned to me, stamped its front hoof firmly on the ground as if to say ‘This is mine’. It was easy to agree. This was the deer’s land. They knew it inside and out and I was but a guest.
This feeling of being the guest of nature stayed with me throughout my retreat. One morning, I woke very early and watched the sun rise over the water. I went out for a walk and sat on the rocks by the sea. A duck was also up to greet the day and swam a few feet from me, periodically diving under the water to feed. Over to the right of me, a heron stood perfectly still, he too was watching for his morning meal. Ripples formed around the duck as it slowly paddled away from me. Small circles expanding ever outward. My heart seemed to echo the movement and to grow inside my chest. The communion I felt in this place was softening me, helping me breathe easier and feel more peace.
My final morning, I made myself a cup of coffee and stood at the window looking out over the beauty of the land and ocean. I had enjoyed my time here. I felt fed and nourished by nature, by my meditation and by rest.
The words, You know what to do, were the only response I had received to my question: how then shall I live? I was a little perplexed by this, because my intellect wanted a more directive answer. Suddenly, as I stood in front of the window gazing outward, I felt a deep outpouring from my heart. It was like my heart poured out over the land, the water, the animals and the people to hold it all in an embrace. A deep welling up and pouring forth that was accompanied by the words from deep within – ‘I want to care for this.’
Months later, I am still affected by those words. This is how I am to live. With deep and abiding care for all of creation. I have always had a love for nature, but something shifted during that retreat. My love for this earth expanded, deepened, transformed . . . I don’t have the exact word to describe it . . . the moment was a humble outpouring, while at the same time a deep filling up took place. I felt awash with love for it all.
The gifts that arise out of these times of silent retreat are always deeply soul nourishing. Entering the silence is an invitation to dance with God. I find this dedicated time of silence is my willingness and consent to be ‘done unto’ and surrender my role of being the doer. I like this place of sweet surrender. My soul yearns for it.
I returned home from my retreat to write my vow for ordination. The words formed themselves: I vow to show up with my heart and to live in service to Love. This is how I shall live.
Kathy Roy is an Interfaith/Interspiritual Minister and a Spiritual Director trained in the Contemplative path. She can often be found walking local beaches where she draws inspiration from nature. She shares her reflections about the Contemplative on her blog KathyRoy.com.