While retreat is a word that can conjure up a very specific image for me — my back propped up against  a wide girthed tree overlooking a quiet body of water, a blackened pot of hot water simmering over a small fire of gathered twigs next to me, a red canoe overturned on the shoreline, and a dry tent not far behind –there is one particular, and perhaps vital, item in that vision that I can carry with me practically anywhere to find myself in a space of retreat wherever I am. Take away the tree, the water, the sky, the canoe, the fire, the tent, I can still be there.

A retreat is a place of refuge, of solitude, deep peace, and safety, or the act of withdrawing to such a place. Sometimes, if we are fortunate, that can be a physical place we can go, such as the one that I envision, where we can slow down and quiet the noise , within and without,  but too often that is not possible.

The thing that is magical about retreat places is that they are spacious. Stripped of the tasks and busyness of daily routines and demands, removed from ordinary ways of being in the world, something else has space to breathe… to see, to feel, to speak. The way this feels to me is as if there is some part of me that swims in my depths, beneath the surface noise of my life, that can rise up in such places to have a look around with fresh eyes, play in the sun, or fill me in on what I’ve been missing at the bottom of the sea. I suspect that this part of me is my wiser self.

So then, what is this magical item I can carry with me, which can give her the space to breathe and the safety to come forth?

While it is true that I do have a miniature mermaid that typically sits on a shelf in my room, she is not the conjurer of this magical retreat space (though she has been missing for some months now, hiding somewhere no doubt, since one of my granddaughters visited… and it IS true that SHE hasn’t been out and about much lately either  … so perhaps that mermaid figurine contains more magic than I gave her credit!)

Some people burrow into the escape of a good novel, and while I value deeply the riches hidden in those overflowing treasure boxes… gifts of empathy and understanding, of exploration, education, and imagination…the book I am referring to does not take me outside of myself for retreat. Rather, it takes me inside, inside a vast world of oceans unchartered, to call forth from the deep the song of my soul.

And when I am seated, my back propped by that tree, alongside the water, next to the fire, beneath the sky, this book is most likely there too, wrapped in my arms, singing to me of all that she sees; likewise, this evening, my back propped in my overstuffed chair, next to the rose colored lamp and a steaming hot cup of tea. For in the spacious and uncluttered pages of my journal, she is safe to sing.

‘I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say. …’ Flannery O’Connor

2016-02-25 20.07.33

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