A few weekends ago I gave myself the gift of presence. It was simple really. I created an at-home retreat, something many of us can do. Was it easy? Not for me. You see, despite being a deeply contemplative person, I am also a doer. I like to do things. I carry many voices inside me that remind of what I could be doing, or worse yet, what I should be doing. One of my lifelong lessons it seems is to acknowledge these pesky voices and then turn my attention elsewhere; to listen instead to the voice of my soul. The voice that says, “Nourish yourself. Rest.”
Mid-winter in Michigan is the one of the best times to go inward. There is a profound stillness that covers the landscape. Even the Great Mother Inner Ocean (Lake Michigan) still sings her comforting lullaby despite the cold. I used to think that I hated winter; I dreaded it in fact. But something happened a few years ago and my soul turned toward it. It heard a beckon call to return to the comfort of quiet--inner and outer stillness—to give myself permission to rest in it. Winter has become for me a season of spiritual self-care. And one of the ways I engage this care is by creating an at-home retreat.
Key to ensuring silence and rest for me is disconnecting from all devices. In my day-to-day life, I am too often drawn to regularly checking my phone or email, or following the next best rabbit hole of interest on the internet. On retreat, I must put my computer in a different room so I don’t see it, the same with my phone. An email autoresponder is turned on. I know my own mind and poor habits and one of the best gifts I can give myself is freedom from distraction. I often marvel at how patient the Universe must be with me to tolerate my tendency toward distraction.
Retreats, especially at-home retreats, need to be prepared ahead of time. We must inform any others with whom we share space that we are taking “time-in” and cannot be disturbed. Food and drink will need to be prepared and handy; creating a comfortable retreat space for yourself that’s ideal for rest and reflection. A chair for reading and writing unless you prefer to do it hunkered down under the covers as I do. There is nothing better than greeting the morning with prayers of “Thank You,” stealing to the kitchen to make a cup of tea, then crawling back into a warm bed with a book and my journal.
Only then, once all this orchestration has taken place, does the retreat actually begin. I don’t know about you but it always takes a little while for me to settle down inside myself, to “gentle down” as I call it, and slide into neutral. To be more receptive to the movement of the Spirit, for this is primarily what retreat time is for me: a time to let go of my own agenda, to listen, to receive, and to follow the sacred threads of what is being revealed to my deepest me—my soul.
I’ve always needed a book or two on retreat to open the door of any deeper knowing. It could be one simple phrase that reveals an entire universe of discovery. And perhaps not so much discovery as remembering—who I am in my essence, who or what the Divine is to me, and how it is working in my life, calling me deeper yet. The depths, I have come to know, are cavernous, immeasurable, spanning into Forever. But I accept the invitation and enter.
This time while on retreat the book I journeyed with was Birthing the Holy: Wisdom from Mary to Nurture Creativity and Renewal by Christine Valters Paintner. I chose it carefully, or should I say, its spirit chose me. I believe that focusing on one tract or tome, minimizing the voices in texts to a few, is key to greater attention and deepening. The “success” of one’s retreat may depend on what you have been guided to spend your time with and how. An entire suitcase of books is not necessary, and yet while on retreat elsewhere, I have witnessed attendees doing this very thing. Bringing stacks of books for fear they will miss something!
I believe the Divine doesn’t work this way, but instead meets us right where we are as we are—with little or nothing at our disposal—and perhaps this scarcity of texts and tools is best. After all, we are being invited to simply BE during this time of turning inward. The primary invitation of retreat is simply listening, being, breathing, attending to our inner movements, and trusting that we are being guided into the Great Depths that can nourish and restore us.
During my at-home retreat, I found a rhythm to my days. I read, journaled, rested, walked. I sat in silence and looked out the window—watched the snowflakes fall. I listened to gentle music and drank a lot of tea. I found myself praying more than usual which was quite lovely. Mostly, I tried to receive because I do trust the movement of the Spirit and know in my heart the gifts can be great and bounteous if we leave our personal agendas at the retreat door and humbly enter in.
I was not disappointed. In fact, this retreat felt monumental to me as if a great internal turning had taken place. I let go, I trusted, I followed Sacred breadcrumbs and was nourished by them. As the months or years go by, I will undoubtedly write more about my experience, but not now because the gifts are still being revealed, and sometimes it is best to hold these tender bestowals close to your heart. They are still warm, still fragrant, and continue to take me deeper.
I wish the same for you. May deep rest and inner nourishment be yours. May Presence reveal itself in unexpected and healing ways. May you know that you are loved.
How do you care for yourself when your heart feels tender? Hurting? Sad?
We each have our ways, each one unique, just as our fingerprint is unique. It seems to me that it's not the method that matters, but the acceptance of our soul's call to tend well to ourselves when we are feeling vulnerable or unable to engage in life in the usual fashion.
I've been feeling that inner pull to silence and the quiet comfort that comes with a more gentle rhythm of my days since my dear mother passed away in March. Since then, I often find myself simply sitting, gazing out the window, resting my attention on the trees, or listening to the birds that come to our deck. But mostly, I am drawn to walking by myself. I hear a small whisper from within that says, "Just walk." It feels healing to do so.
I walk mostly in quiet places with very few people. I stop, listen to the wind in the trees, notice the chirping of birds happily building their nests, and pause by the little brook that soothes my heart with wordless babbles. So sweet.
I'm also soothed by poetry. I notice that my brain doesn't easily absorb the content of "regular" books right now. But the gentle turn of a phrase offered by a poet can land in my heart in just the right way. And that's all I need in the moment, a heart hug.
How do you extend spiritual care to yourself when your whole being longs for gentle understanding?
I'm surprised at how often I remember the character, "Roseanna Danna", played by Gilda Radner on the TV show Saturday Night Live? Her wise-mouthed mantra was, “It’s always something!” It's true! It IS always something, something that will yank us out of any sweet spot of serenity we’ve found. Such is the nature of life as a human being.
The "something" that upsets our equanimity can be big or small, seemingly trivial or completely life-altering. As I read through headline news these days, it feels as if there are more somethings than ever before. At least that's what my anxiety prone mind tells me. In truth, life has always been difficult for humans for as long as we've inhabited the earth. Violence is ever-present and the suffering it creates as well. Sickness, old age, and death are but a blink away.
With all these somethings going on, how can we stay in touch with a more balanced state of mind, our wise and hopeful heart? For me, it always comes back to re-connecting with my breath. This breath is not just any breath but, to me, a sacred breath. Breathing in, breathing out, with "restful purposefulness" welcomes me Home.
These days, I am engaging with my breath in this welcoming way as if each breath I take actually whispers "Welcome back" into the ear of my heart. The tone of this wise voice is sweet, full of loving-kindness, ever so gentle. It comes from a part of my own self that recognizes how other parts of me have wandered too far afield and how they long for a loving embrace.
Breathing in, "Welcome back. I am glad you're here."
Breathing out, "Rest in this moment."
Breathing in, "Welcome back. You are home."
Breathing out, "Let go and simply be here now."
What words of welcome might your inner wisdom whisper into the ear of your heart?
a calm, open-hearted space of welcome & service.
I'm glad you're here. Welcome to this space of exploration, deepening understanding & the practice of presence across traditions.
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Dr. Janice Lynne Lundy (PsyD, DMin, MPC)
is The Gerald May Professor of Spiritual Direction & Counseling at the Graduate Theological Foundation. She is an interspiritual director/mentor, educator and counselor who has been pointing people back toward the Sacred for nearly thirty years.