Retreating Into Life
"We can begin to experience fulfillment as soon as we choose to create environments permitting us to do so."
~ Bob Samples
Colorful neon lights twirled against the starlit sky as the Ferris Wheel spun high above the ocean. The surf's roar was almost drowned out by the clackety-clack of the roller coaster's wheels as it climbed high, straining to reach the dark heights, and then plunging straight down into the depths of the inky black night. The pier was alive with the murmur of lovers, the shrieks of children, the call of mothers and the silence of fishermen. Each enjoyed the moment in different ways. Each heard and saw what beckoned to their soul.
But none heard or saw the whole. The children didn't notice the fishermen, and the fishermen ignored the lovers. Focused on their individual pursuits, they did not notice what I enjoyed as I stood apart, wrapped in watchful stillness. I saw each of them: the way they moved, their glee, their fears. I heard the surf, the coaster, the music of the merry-go-round, not as distant background noise but each note of their songs vivid and clear, a memory to treasure.
Josie RavenWing, in The Return of Spirit: A Woman's Call to Spiritual Action, recognized how much we miss when we are too busy to be still. "The waters of our inner being are not calm. Our thoughts are like myriad restless minnows always darting here and there, disturbing the surface with their frantic motions. And because these activities focus on either the past or the future, when we are thinking, we are never fully present in the moment....Only by concentrating our attention in the 'now' can we directly experience spirit. The present moment is an eternal river full of endless spiritual potentials, potentials never to be repeated in exactly the same way the next moment. Every time we miss the present, we pass up its gifts. Fortunately, the universe is benevolent in that we are constantly being given fresh opportunities. However, the question we might ask is, 'How many gifts do I really want to pass up?'"
How many gifts indeed. We have the ears to hear and the eyes to see-but do we see and hear the glory of each moment? Or do we sleepwalk through life without noticing the wonderful contrasts presented for our amusement?
Valerie Andrews, in her book A Passion for the Earth , wrote:"As a child I had a secret place. Every day at sunset I visited a grove of birch trees surrounded by a hedge of sweet-smelling privet. At the center was a mound where I would lie down and listen to the steady rhythmic heartbeat of the earth. For several years, I performed this daily ritual. Even in the winter I could feel the pulse as though I were connected to a rootlike umbilicus to the dark core of the land. The grove faced west and formed a kind of kiva or womb-like container. This enclosure had all the power of an ancient shrine; it was a place of dying and becoming. As the light intensified and left the sky awash in crimson flames, I learned a way of being in the world and in transition. Something within me changed as the earth underwent its own transfiguration and as the day's activity gave way to the long, slow respiration of the night."
In Claiming the Tenured Body , published in The Center of the Web: Women and Solitude, Professor Elizabeth Ellsworth shared her own experience of conquering stillness and allowing the world to flow in. She created her own space at the top of a pasture just out of sight of her farmhouse. She intended to read and write but "mostly found myself listening to the wind that sounded like the sea and watching the leaves turn red or yellow at the end of each day of the new semester. Everything stirred and breathed. By April, I knew I want to spend much time in that place."
She hauled lumber to the top of the pasture and began to build a platform. "I pounded nails to the thunder, lightning, rain, mud, sun and wind that flew through the pasture all within the same half hour's time-an urgent and enthusiastic visitation by each of the four elements to this tiny platform retreat....Casting a space in the world where I would go to hear my breath and my heart. Where I would choose to retire in solitude-a very different form and meaning of solitude than the isolation expected by the tenure track. I sat alone with my journal, in the sun , with pens, pencils, a box of craypas and asked: What version of myself-in-the-academy might sustain my life and support my passion for learning and teaching?"
Jennifer Louden, in The Woman's Retreat Book , discusses the value of being sensually alive via the path of still silence. "Too often, we get clear messages from our inner selves about what we need to do, silvery treasure maps with the location of the treasure marked in fire engine red, but we don't act on what we hear. When you hear, listen. To retreat doesn't have to mean a week at an ashram; it may mean an afternoon alone. Listen. Sometimes sitting quietly makes us ache. It feels like returning home, deja vu, "Oh I remember this! I haven't done this since______ (you fill in the blank). You might remember the promises you made to yourself in the past, all your well-intentioned plans to take better care of yourself. You wonder how you got distracted. Again. It feels good but scary to make another promise to honor your needs. Do you dare risk it again? Yes, you must. For the cycle of being-doing is also the cycle of remembering-forgetting. Like Persephone in the myth of Demeter and Persephone, you blossom, you die, you are reborn again and again."
And so, again and again, I return to the pier to blossom, to die, to be reborn. I stand close to the bubble machine, letting its iridescent orbs float to me on invisible currents made visible only by their presence. I soak in the sensation of being underwater where the currents dance before me, parting to allow my passing, granting me space beside the intricacies of life's most delicate offerings. It is in these moments that I receive the gifts of the sight and sound, whether in the isolation of the pastoral setting or retreating into still silence amid the cacophony of life.
By Loretta Kemsley
Women Artists and Writers International
Writer, Editor and Editorial Coach
Loretta Kemsley's Personal Portfolio: Women's Writings