I have a friend named Catherine who lives on a Zendo in the Cascade Range. I am grateful that she considers herself my big sister in matters of the Dharma, as I have no direct teacher or lineage to guide my practice. She and her partner have built a tiny house that is snug, warm, and dry, and I have enjoyed several winter retreats in this space.
I arrived on Monday night, checked in with Catherine and moved into the cabin. We visited, catching up on our separate lives in matters of life, death, family, and love. I finished my mediation and slept well.
The next day Catherine oriented me to a few chores; I always contribute some cash for use of the cabin, and also some work. It’s important to work during my retreats; Catherine usually has me work in the front gardens. Today’s retreat was raking leaves. On Tuesday I raked leaves in the pouring rain, as it rained all day long. I felt a mixture of overwhelm by the size of the lawn and the heaviness of the leaves and satisfaction in seeing the work progress. By the end of my work, I had 10 or so piles of various sizes. I sang the Gayatri mantra as I worked, enjoying the rhythm of my body, and the prayer from my voice. At one point, I could not get past the initial Om, the words would not come. I found that interesting as I had been chanting for over an hour. I switched to the mantra and calls for balance of light and dark. I also sang a prayer I learned from Priestess Donella at Fall Equinox of 2018 “Before the Fall the Summer, and before the Summer, Spring; Before the Spring the Wintertime, and before the Winter, Sing; Before the Song the Singer, and before the Singer, Air; Before the Air, Creation, and before Creation, Prayer.” I was feeling more and more that this retreat was about Praying, and Listening.
The next day I only sang the Creation song. I walked the lane where a neighbor had done some logging and the dead trees were piled up on the side of the drive. I sang to them and touched each one. I counted rings on one of the biggest trees, it lived almost 150 years before it was cut. Another one was almost 80. It felt good to pray to them, and sad that we have done so much logging and killed so many of our friends.
Thursday I did not sing, I only listened. I worked in the yard early, as Catherine’s family was coming for Thanksgiving, and I did not want to be bothered nor interfere. All of the dew was frozen and I was grateful for the warm and waterproof gloves. I had asked Catherine if she would bring me a little meat, as I forgot mine at home; actually I forgot my meat and the chili so I was eating kefir, bagels (no cream cheese, I forgot that too), canned fruit, and granola. I had enough food, but only just enough and was rationing. I was grateful that Catherine said she would bring me some meat. As the late afternoon wore on, it became less certain she would come, at 8:30 I turned off the light, knowing that when we had our meeting Friday evening she would feed me if I asked. I had enough to get me through the day, but it was interesting to want something that I had asked for, assumed I would get, and was not getting. Of course I could have gone to the house, but it seemed more interesting to notice my feelings.
Friday morning I prayed and meditated. Then I set to work memorizing my commitment, which I will add to my prayers. You can see my full commitment in another blog. I feel so congruent with myself, it seems impossible that I will ever feel anything else. Ha! Emotions are so labile! Catherine came around 11:30 announcing “lunch!” Oh sweet goddess! Pumpkin pie with whipped cream, turkey and homemade cranberry sauce. I literally danced around the small cabin while I ate. After my wonderful meal, I did one last stint in the garden, working in the sun so warm I had to take off my gloves. There was ice on the plants in the shade, but in the sun it was deliciously warm. After working the cat and I enjoyed a few minutes of petting and purring.
Why do I go on retreats? I have been meditating daily since 2012, and meditating an hour a day for almost 4 years now. As with any practice, some days it feels nurturing and easy, other days are more difficult. I have been taking regular retreats of some kind since 2006 and find that it helps clear the cobwebs, helps me assess if I am staying true to the compass point of my life. Last summer I took a vision quest retreat; along with meditation I fasted for three days. At that time, I understood that a monthly retreat of at least 24 hours would be wise, with long retreats annually. I feel deeply grateful for all the strands of my life that conspire to support these times of introspection and renewal.