Silent Retreat

I have been thinking that I need a retreat from the world. With the grief that’s accompanied my dad’s passing, my worries about my husband’s health decline, and my general malaise with the current leadership in these United States, I need a break. The long, cold Northeastern winter does not help.

A fantastic think piece this week in the Wall Street Journal about Tapping Into the Sound of Silence by Anne Kadet who took a silent retreat within the framework of her own day-to-day life, got me thinking, ‘Hey, I don’t have to actually do any big whoop to retreat. I can simply turn down the volume.’

Incidentally, since getting hearing aids, I can literally turn down the volume. During the school day as I help to monitor middle school lunches, this turning-it-down feature really benefits me in the noisy dining hall. I can still hear boys’ conversations near me, but I don’t have to take in the whole big din. The dining hall becomes a bit more civilized when it’s not so loud.

When we get silent, there is a “freedom from self-preoccupation,” according to Richard Rohr. His message popped up in today’s emails. It is as if the world is trying to tell me something.

When we recognize something as beautiful, that knowledge partly emerges from the silence around it. It may be why we are quiet in art galleries and symphony halls. If something is not surrounded by the vastness of silence and space, it is hard to appreciate it as singular and beautiful. If it is all mixed in with everything else, then its particularity does not stand out.

Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation
From the Center for Action and Contemplation

To get quiet, one needs to focus, to control the kneejerk reaction to respond to every stimulus — whether it’s the red flashing breaking news update or the ping of a new email hitting the inbox.

The reward for this focus, this silence, this mindfulness, this absence, is the gift of noticing the world around you — be it the beauty of this winter season or the humor of children.

I know that I can be a little chatty. I love to joke around with my coworkers and family. But by freeing myself from the need to make noise, I am giving myself the gift of focusing more deeply on the natural world and on the people in my world. I am opening myself to all that is beautiful. I love to look at art and appreciate the specificity of words.

I’m tuning out, but not to drop out; my purpose is to drop in, go deeper, take time, listen better. Create a silent retreat right where I am.

Join me on the winter writing retreat where we will spend time in silence, in looking at art, and in noisy meal times.

I’ve been having a lot of fun playing around with acrylics and mixed media this winter.

Winter Westport Weekend

We walked for a while.
We stopped at the school house. I’m happy when I’m with my kids.
And I’m always at home at a schoolhouse.
We visited our old beautiful home. Memories of winters gone by.

Some people vacation in the Adirondacks in the summer. Yet the cold winter months in the New York mountains offer a beautiful and stark landscape, perfect for taking stock and taking time. How often do we pause to simply exhale and inhale the beauty of nature?  

Getting out of your home comfort zone and into nature, even in the winter weather, refreshes your soul. During the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, my family went up to Westport on Lake Champlain. We took a couple of long walks on Camp Dudley Road. Nothing makes you feel so alive as a brisk winter walk. Breathe. Feel the bracing fresh air and notice the big sky.

Don’t be lulled into the belief that the only way to socialize with family and friends is to dine at home or go out to eat together. I contend that walking and talking and making art together offers a more fulfilling connection. Don’t get me wrong: I love sitting down to a delicious meal with family and friends. It’s a great way to share time and stories. But it’s not the only way.

Walking together makes memories too.

During one of my long winter walks, I hit upon the idea of offering a winter writing and arts retreat in Westport. I, for one, am looking forward to getting quiet, slowing down, going for long winter walks, and, okay, yes, dining together. Telling stories through art and writing.  

Check out the February 14-18 Winter Adirondack Retreat. Take a walk. Take in the weather.

Stay Happy-Go-Lucky

“I will never stop fighting for justice.” I told my daughter at the kitchen table, the morning after the election.

“I know, Mom,” she said.

I was glad that she knew this. I was glad that I had not lost the fight. I have been focused on teaching well and not so much on writing well over the last few months. I have felt defeated by this beautiful country that I love and the election results. But I refuse to give up. Je refuse. 

I will find beauty. I will make sure kindness wins. I will serve others. Throughout my journey, I will remain happy-go-lucky. It is my rebellion – to fight for happiness and to remain carefree. Despite my cares. I worry, mostly, about the progression of Chris’s Parkinson’s.

Last night Chris and I watched The End of the Tour about David Foster Wallace. Chris loves getting movies from the library. I love movies about writers. It’s a win/win.

It’s more like, if you can think of times in your life that you’ve treated people with extraordinary decency and love, and pure uninterested concern, just because they were valuable as human beings. The ability to do that with ourselves. To treat ourselves the way we would treat a really good, precious friend. Or a tiny child of ours that we absolutely loved more than life itself. And I think it’s probably possible to achieve that. I think part of the job we’re here for is to learn how to do this.

-From David Lipsky’s Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to post on my blog every other Sunday morning before noon.

Yesterday, Jolain and I went to the Cloisters. Here are a few photos from the day.

Coffee at the Spa

A few years back, it was my first night at the New Age spa. A silver-haired woman sat across from me at the communal dining table; she slipped me something, very sly.

“You’re new here right?” she asked.

“How did you know?”

“You’re wearing a cashmere sweater and pearls. Look around — Everyone else is in sweats.”

I looked around. She was right. I smiled. I could see I was going to like this this place.

“I’m checking out tomorrow morning,” she said. “But you can have my packets. Don’t let anyone know.” She looked around, eyes squinting. I looked at the packet — Sanka.

I went cold turkey for the next couple of days. I never used the packets, but just to remind myself they were there, I’d occasionally tap them in the pocket of my sweats.

Just the idea of coffee comforted me.

Coffee was there for me if I needed it. And I do need it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere have been times my family, friends, colleagues failed me. But not coffee.
Coffee loves me unconditionally.

Studies show that coffee keeps women from depression. The Consumer Report Study on Coffee says Four or more cups a day? Fine, you’ll be 20 percent less likely to be depressed. So, go ahead. Have another cup of coffee. Better yet, have four. I dare you. Yea, try to keep up with me!

Not that I’m competitive. Okay, yes, I am a competitive person. I blame the fact that I have three brothers. I have even found I can be competitive in a spa-like setting – in yoga class or a moment for meditation.

How fast can you get into a meditative zone? Oh, yeah! I can meditate and relax twice as fast.

This summer I went to Kripalu, a wonderful, place. The breakfast is a silent meal. And guess what? I am more silent than anyone. I am also the slowest and quietest eater there.

In this political season, you may hear some politician brag of having good words or the best or hugest plans. Yes, well. I have the best silence. I have a huge mindfulness practice. The hugest.

I have trouble letting go of my competitive drive even while receiving a massage. I am probably the most relaxed person the masseuse has ever laid hands on.

Oh, God, who am I kidding? I am never able to relax. I am so tense. It is from the coffee. Or maybe the chai tea latte. Yes, they serve that at spas now. I had that at the quiet breakfast at Kripalu. I was bursting to tell someone — anyone — “Wow this is some good chai!”

But everyone was so quiet — unlike the old days when we chatted and discreetly passed one another little Sanka packets. Coffee tasted better when it was forbidden.

Still. Coffee’s perfect. With conversation or with quiet. Communal or solitary. The world may bring you down. But coffee and chai and a few days at the spa? They lift you up.

I read this tonite at noson lawen, translated as “happy evening” at the Welsh Church. 

Kindness Counts

One special night Chris and I took the kids to see the Big Apple Circus. The show was spectacular and Grandma, our favorite clown, was so funny. It was warm although it was Thanksgiving weekend. A golden moon hung over Manhattan.

“Look at the moon,” I told my son, who was eight or nine years old at the time.

“No, c’mon. Hurry up, Mom. I have to get home to see Drake and Josh.” That was his favorite TV show.

Duhrr! What did I do wrong? I had given my kids EVERYTHING — including the moon and what did I get? No ‘Thank you.’ ‘Gee, I’m so lucky.’ ‘You’re the best.’

I just read this Karen Weese article in the Washington Post about raising kinder kids. I love it. I relate. I know, too, that kids at certain ages are simply caught up in the here and now. And they cannot fathom that something wonderful is not right in front of them at any given moment. They deserve it. We all do. Even though something wonderful might just have happened for us. Are we all so entitled?

We have to learn to SAVOR. This is a stage I learned about at Global Ministries on the Marketing Team. Working for the United Methodist Church, I had worked on lots and lots of marketing campaigns. On the team, we needed to remind each other to stop and pause and savor how well we had done before we started some new project. It was hard to do.

Probably in all jobs and in all families, there’s this feeling — I’m on a treadmill. I just hopped off this one treadmill. And now I must jump on another. That’s life. No time.

Let’s remember to pause every day. Pause between our runs on the treadmill. We must savor. And in that savoring moment, have gratitude for the circus, for the moon, for our favorite TV shows, but mostly for each other — and for Grandma too!

20131231-175736.jpg
This was one cold Chicago 5K Turkey Trot. 

Meditate

You might set the timer on your phone for five minutes. Try these three things:

  1. Sit quietly (Or lay down)mindfulness round
  2. Close eyes (Or half close eyes)
  3. Breathe (Or simply relax)

Yup, that’s it. Try to stay awake. And when the timer goes off, find a renewed sense of energy. Or feel rested. Maybe you’ll find clarity to a problem.

I took this picture last weekend at Wave Hill, a beautiful little nature center in Riverdale.


I love the image of the lotus flower as a symbol for the meditative mind. Like a lotus, let all cares rest on the surface. Let the mind be calm water. Or a cloudless sky.

I heard Thich Nhat Hahn once say that when troubles strike, let the troubles be like a storm that may toss and turn the top branches of a tree but your trunk, your center, stays strong. You bend but do not break.

Last year I dedicated the month of October to mindfulness. It worked. I felt more at peace — for a few minutes, for a month, for a while.

Tree

Ordinarily Happy

In the next day, my 16-year-old twin girls are going to tour nearby colleges. My 19-year-old son and his good friend are just home for the weekend to attend a concert, and they will fly the coop back to the university tonight. This leaves just me and my husband at home. And I am longing for a new beginning.

Yes, in the last month I have started a new job, I have refloored our kitchen. As exciting as work friends and home improvements are, I can easily feel stuck. My distraction of choice? I tumble down a rabbit hole, like Alice. I fall into the day’s election news.

In this morning’s revelations on Trump’s taxes, I will tell you, I pay A LOT in taxes. Last year, in addition to what we paid throughout the year, we owed and paid about $12,000 at tax time. Oy! That hurts. But I do not care. Gladly, I would pay more to be sure every single person in this country has health insurance. Also, I have to release my taxes every year to apply for financial aid, so if you want my family’s financial details, we oblige.

I enjoy following the election news — opinionators, bloviators, and pundits. And I, too, can easily spin off on a political rant.

There is also this — I want to be informed to be a good citizen. When public schools were first growing in the United States, their purpose was to teach citizenship, not just load students’ heads with facts. What does it mean today to be a good citizen?

How can I take the day’s news, not feel swamped by a tsunami of unease, but make the world a better place?

Can reading and writing political rants enhance my ordinary life? My citizenship? My kindness towards my fellow human?

Because ordinary life is extraordinary. Yours is too. Your ordinary, boring day is a miracle. You get to be here in this life. You get to embark on a new beginning.

The election is a kind of new year. My children, considering and attending colleges, are at a new stage. And I am ready for newness. And if something new and wonderful does not drop in my lap today, I aim to find the new beginning in this one day. In my ordinary day. This makes me happy — the idea of some unplanned and happy synchronicity.

harold-and-maudLast night, in addition to the joy of the new season of Saturday Night Live, Cate, Chris, and I watched the movie Harold and Maude. I woke up humming Cat Stevens.

Well, if you want to sing out, sing out
And if you want to be free, be free
‘Cause there’s a million things to be
You know that there are

And if you want to live high, live high
And if you want to live low, live low
‘Cause there’s a million ways to go
You know that there are